Dr Fiona Houston

The Roslin Institute

Research Interests

Prion diseases of ruminants, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), scrapie and chronic wasting disease (CWD), are important because of their zoonotic potential, and the economic impact of control measures and trade restrictions on the farming industry. As ruminants are natural hosts of these diseases, they also provide valuable models for comparative studies that can yield insights into related human diseases, such as variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (vCJD). There are marked differences between different ruminant species in the pathogenesis and epidemiology of prion diseases. For example, in sheep and deer there is widespread replication of infectivity in lymphoid tissues, and relatively efficient disease transmission between susceptible individuals by a variety of routes, whereas in cattle the infectious agent is largely confined to the nervous system and there appears to be little or no direct transmission of disease. Interestingly, sheep with certain PrP genotypes also demonstrate limited replication of infectivity in lymphoid tissues when infected with prions, and this correlates with relative resistance to disease. I am interested in using a comparative approach in different ruminant species to identify the molecular mechanisms that determine susceptibility to prion infection at a cellular level, and explain differences in host susceptibility and routes of transmission. I am also interested in developing large animal models in cattle and sheep for comparative studies of age-related neurodegenerative changes, as well as the effects of ageing on other body systems.

Examples of proposed research areas:

  • The potential role of endogenous retroviruses in promoting prion replication in sheep tissues
  • The nature of the prion agent in blood and other body fluids
  • Establishing a herd of cattle born before 1996 for study of atypical BSE and age-related neurodegenerative change

Selected Publications

  • L.A. Boden, F. Houston, R.R. Kao, H.R. Fryer. 2010. Use of a preclinical test in the control of classical scrapie. Journal of General Virology Vol: 91 Pages: 2642-2650. More»
  • S. Siso, M. Jeffrey, S. Martin, Fiona Houston, N. Hunter, L. Gonzalez. 2009. Pathogenetical significance of porencephalic lesions associated with intracerebral inoculation of sheep with the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) agent. Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology Vol: 35 Pages: 247-258. More»
  • S. Siso, M. Jeffrey, Fiona Houston, N. Hunter, S. Martin, L. Gonzalez. 2010. Pathological Phenotype of Sheep Scrapie After Blood Transfusion. Journal of Comparative Pathology Vol: 142 Pages: 27-35. More»
  • Fiona Houston, Sandra McCutcheon, Wilfred Goldmann, Angela Chong, James Foster, Silvia Siso, Lorenzo Gonzalez, Martin Jeffrey, Nora Hunter. 2008. Prion diseases are efficiently transmitted by blood transfusion in sheep. Blood Vol: 112 Pages: 4739-4745. More»