ABSTRACT

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is a fatal neurologic disease that is spreading across North America. A common surveillance protocol for CWD currently involves screening with an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) followed by confirmatory testing with immunohistochemistry (IHC). Medial retropharyngeal lymph nodes (MRPLN) are the tissue of choice to diagnose CWD in free-ranging white-tailed deer. We examined left and right MRPLN from 101 ELISA-positive deer harvested from 2015 to 2019 to determine the prevalence of cases in which prion protein was not detected by IHC as well as differences in IHC labeling between contralateral lymph nodes. Prion protein was not detected using IHC in either MRPLN in 5.9% (6/101) of cases. There was a significant but weak positive relationship between the number of IHC-positive follicles and ELISA optical density values (R2=0.08, P=0.039). Mean optical density values in IHC-positive MRPLN were higher than in IHC-negative MRPLN; however, this was not statistically significant (P=0.260). Failure to confirm ELISA diagnoses with IHC may have been because the methods tested different areas of MRPLN, or that there were differences in test sensitivity or antibody affinity. An additional 5.9% (6/101) of cases had one IHC-positive MRPLN, whereas the contralateral MRPLN was IHC negative. Therefore, testing a single MRPLN for CWD may lead to false-negative results, regardless of methodology, which highlights the importance of collecting and testing both MRPLN.

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