U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version

October 2006


Published in J Vet Diagn Invest 18:553–557 (2006).


Preclinical diagnostic tests for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies have been described for mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), using biopsy tissues of palatine tonsil, and for sheep, using lymphoid tissues from palatine tonsil, third eyelid, and rectal mucosa. The utility of examining the rectal mucosal lymphoid tissues to detect chronic wasting disease (CWD) was investigated in Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni), a species for which there is not a live-animal diagnostic test. Postmortem rectal mucosal sections were examined from 308 elk from two privately owned herds that were depopulated. The results of the postmortem rectal mucosal sections were compared to immunohistochemical staining of the brainstem, retropharyngeal lymph nodes, and palatine tonsil. Seven elk were found positive using the brainstem (dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve), retropharyngeal lymph nodes, and palatine tonsil. Six of these elk were also found positive using postmortem rectal mucosal sections. The remaining 301 elk in which CWD-associated abnormal isoform of the prion protein (PrPCWD) was not detected in the brainstem and cranial lymphoid tissues were also found to be free of PrPCWD when postmortem rectal mucosal sections were examined. The use of rectal mucosal lymphoid tissues may be suitable for a live-animal diagnostic test as part of an integrated management strategy to limit CWD in elk.