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While prion infection of the lymphoreticular system (LRS) is necessary for neuroinvasion in many prion diseases, in bovine spongiform encephalopathy and atypical cases of sheep scrapie there is evidence to challenge that LRS infection is required for neuroinvasion. Here we investigated the role of prion infection of LRS tissues in neuroinvasion following extraneural inoculation with the HY and DY strains of the transmissible mink encephalopathy (TME) agent. DY TME agent infectivity was not detected in spleen or lymph nodes following intraperitoneal inoculation and clinical disease was not observed following inoculation into the peritoneum or lymph nodes, or after oral ingestion. In contrast, inoculation of the HY TME agent by each of these peripheral routes resulted in replication in the spleen and lymph nodes and induced clinical disease. To clarify the role of the LRS in neuroinvasion, the HY and DY TME agents were also inoculated into the tongue because it is densely innervated and lesions on the tongue, which are common in ruminants, increase the susceptibility of hamsters to experimental prion disease. Following intratongue inoculation, the DY TME agent caused prion disease and was detected in both the tongue and brainstem nuclei that innervate the tongue, but the prion protein PrPSc was not detected in the spleen or lymph nodes. These findings indicate that the DY TME agent can spread from the tongue to the brain along cranial nerves and neuroinvasion does not require agent replication in the LRS. These studies provide support for prion neuroinvasion from highly innervated peripheral tissues in the absence of LRS infection in natural prion diseases of livestock.