Wildlife disease incidence is increasing, resulting in negative impacts on the economy, biodiversity, and potentially human health. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal, transmissible spongiform encephalopathy of cervids (wild and captive) which continues to spread geographically resulting in exposure to potential new host species. The disease agent (PrPCWD) is a misfolded conformer of the cellular prion protein (PrPC). In Canada, the disease is endemic in Alberta and Saskatchewan, affecting mule and white-tail deer, with lesser impact on elk and moose. As the disease continues to expand, additional wild ungulate species including bison, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, and pronghorn antelope may be exposed. To better understand the species-barrier, we reviewed the current literature on taxa naturally or experimentally exposed to CWD to identify susceptible and resistant species. We created a phylogeny of these taxa using cytochrome B and found that CWD susceptibility followed the species phylogeny. Using this phylogeny we estimated the probability of CWD susceptibility for wild ungulate species. We then compared PrPC amino acid polymorphisms among these species to identify which sites segregated between susceptible and resistant species. We identified sites that were significantly associated with susceptibility, but they were not fully discriminating. Finally, we sequenced Prnp from 578 wild ungulates to further evaluate their potential susceptibility. Together, these data suggest the host-range for CWD will potentially include pronghorn, mountain goat and bighorn sheep, but bison are likely to be more resistant. These findings highlight the need for monitoring potentially susceptible species as CWD continues to expand.

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Department of Biology

Cullingham, C., Peery, R.M. (Rhiannon M.), Dao, A. (Anh), McKenzie, D.I. (Debbie I.), & Coltman, D.W. (David W.). (2020). Predicting the spread-risk potential of chronic wasting disease to sympatric ungulate species. Prion, 14(1), 56–66. doi:10.1080/19336896.2020.1720486