Polymorphisms within the prion protein gene (Prnp) are an intrinsic factor that can modulate chronic wasting disease (CWD) pathogenesis in cervids. Although wild European reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) were infected with CWD, as yet there have been no reports of the disease in North American caribou (R. tarandus spp.). Previous Prnp genotyping studies on approximately 200 caribou revealed single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) at codons 2 (V/M), 129 (G/S), 138 (S/N), 146 (N/n) and 169 (V/M). The impact of these polymorphisms on CWD transmission is mostly unknown, except for codon 138. Reindeer carrying at least one allele encoding for asparagine (138NN or 138SN) are less susceptible to clinical CWD upon infection by natural routes, with the majority of prions limited to extraneural tissues. We sequenced the Prnp coding region of two caribou subspecies (n = 986) from British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, to identify SNPs and their frequencies. Genotype frequencies at codon 138 differed significantly between barren-ground (R. t. groenlandicus) and woodland (R. t. caribou) caribou when we excluded the Chinchaga herd (p <.05). We also found new variants at codons 153 (Y/F) and 242 (P/L). Our findings show that the 138N allele is rare among caribou in areas with higher risk of contact with CWD-infected species. As both subspecies are classified as Threatened and play significant roles in North American Indigenous culture, history, food security and the economy, determining frequencies of Prnp genotypes associated with susceptibility to CWD is important for future wildlife management measures.

caribou, caribou conservation, chronic wasting disease, genotyping, prion protein
Molecular Ecology
Department of Biology

Arifin, M.I. (Maria Immaculata), Staskevicius, A. (Antanas), Shim, S.Y. (Su Yeon), Huang, Y.-H. (Yuan-Hung), Fenton, H. (Heather), McLoughlin, P.D. (Philip D.), … Gilch, S. (Sabine). (2020). Large-scale prion protein genotyping in Canadian caribou populations and potential impact on chronic wasting disease susceptibility. Molecular Ecology. doi:10.1111/mec.15602