Determining the role of mononuclear phagocyte cell subsets in scrapie transmission from the skin
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Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), or prion diseases, are fatal neurodegenerative diseases that affect several species, such as scrapie in sheep or goats and CJD in humans. In several species, neurological disease is preceded by TSE agent accumulation in lymphoid tissues prior to neuroinvasion. While oral transmission is considered the most common route for scrapie, transmission can also occur through lesions to the skin or mucosa, for example in the mouth or gastrointestinal tract due to rough feed, or birth associated skin damage. Scrapie has also been experimentally transmitted through skin scarification in mice. Following scrapie infection via skin scarification, PrPSc accumulates in the draining lymph node (LN) before spreading to other organs in the lymphoreticular system. It is not yet known by what means the scrapie agent is transported from the skin to the draining LN. Dendritic cells (DCs) in the skin have been found to transport viruses, such as HIV or Dengue, from the skin, thereby raising the question whether DCs or Langerhans cells (LCs), located within the epidermis, play a role in the uptake and transport of the TSE agent from the skin to the draining LN. CD11c is a cell surface marker traditionally used to identify or isolate DCs from other cell types. Mice and rats are naturally resistant to Diphtheria toxin (DTX). A transgenic mouse line was created where the Diphtheria toxin receptor (DTR) was expressed on CD11c+ cells. The presence of this receptor on CD11c+ cells allowed for the temporary conditional depletion of CD11c+ cells following a single injection of DTX. The cells repopulate the tissues within a time frame specific to the tissues the cells are located in. These mice were used to determine whether the absence of CD11c+ cells at the time of scrapie infection via the skin had an effect on the early accumulation of PrPSc within the lymphoid tissues and on disease progression. Immunohistochemical analysis demonstrated that early PrPSc accumulation in the draining LNs was delayed following depletion of CD11c+ cells, indicating that their potential role in the transport of the scrapie agent from the skin. Scrapie incubation period was not affected by the absence of the CD11c+ cells at the time of infection. Recent findings show that CD11c is not exclusive to DCs and is also expressed on macrophage populations. Following DTX-mediated depletion, DCs repopulate the tissues much faster than CD11c+ macrophages. Scrapie infection was carried out in the skin in DTX treated mice after DCs had repopulated the tissues but before macrophage numbers had returned, to determine whether macrophages rather than DCs played a role in the early accumulation of PrPSc in the draining LNs. No differences in PrPSc accumulation were observed in mice depleted of macrophages compared to controls and there was no effect on disease incubation period. Another transgenic mouse line was used, where DTX expression on langerin+ cells (LCs and langerin+ DCs in the dermis), allowed for their temporary depletion through DTX treatment. Following langerin+ cell depletion, increased PrPSc accumulation was observed in the draining LNs 7 weeks post infection, but did not affect the incubation period of disease. These results indicate that the absence of LCs somehow accelerated PrPSc accumulation, and that LCs might play a preventative role in early stages after infection.Histopathological analysis was used to complement microarray studies aimed to determine what immune responses were associated with scarification and DTXmediated depletion of cells within the skin and whether these responses might be linked to disease transmission. DCs and LCs in the skin appear to play different roles in the early stages following scrapie infection via the skin, but the lack of effect on incubation period does not rule out the involvement of other cell types or cell-free mechanisms of scrapie agent spread from the skin.