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Mathiason Laboratory Group
Mathiason Laboratory


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The Mathiason lab wants to know:

How does disease pass from one individual to another when everyone looks healthy? 

What we study​:  prion and viral infections  

What’s our focus:  To assimilate an understanding of the biological mechanisms associated with the covert transmission of infectious agents.

How we do this:  Use of native and rodent in vivo hosts and highly sensitive in vitro assays to detect minute quantities of infectious agent found in bodily fluids and tissues.

Our Mission:  To provide a better understanding of disease pathogenesis and transmission dynamics. 

We are actively involved in infectious disease research at Colorado State University.

Our work has provided a better understanding of inter- and intra-host prion trafficking, including demonstration that sufficient infectious prions are found in bodily fluids (saliva, blood, urine, feces) and the environment of CWD-infected deer to establish disease in susceptible hosts. 

Ongoing work in the Mathiason laboratory has led to the development of a new native cervid CWD susceptible host, the Reeves’ muntjac deer, and the implementation of modifications to enhance in vitro prion detection. With these developments we have shown that prions are transmitted from CWD positive mothers to their offspring in both experimental and free-ranging cervid populations. We have detected CWD-prions in fetal tissues harvested in utero, as well as in serial lymphoid biopsies and terminal tissues harvested from offspring born to CWD-infected dams that developed clinical TSE disease. Recent studies using our novel muntjac system have demonstrated the presence of infectious CWD prions within the pregnancy microenvironment in dam uterine tissues, at the fetal-maternal interface within placentomes, and in amniotic fluids that bath the fetus throughout gestation.  These findings provide evidence that the fetus is exposed to the infectious prion agent long before parturition, maternal grooming or environmental contamination. This work demonstrates that in utero prion transmission may be possible and underestimated for all prion diseases.

Our demonstration of early and persistent in vitro detection of blood-born prions has broadened our understanding of intra-host prion dissemination and provides an opportunity to further investigate the role of hematogenous prions in disease pathogenesis. We are currently expanding these findings to assessment of longitudinal blood samples harvested from prion-infected hosts, from minutes post inoculation through terminal clinical disease.  This will permit us to discern the specific blood cell phenotypes associated with prion infection throughout the protracted course of TSE disease.

An outgrowth of our work to better define the role of maternal infections in the persistence of CWD in free-range populations has led to investigation of viral-microbiome interactions and immune response modulation at the maternal-fetal interface associated with the presence and transfer of infectious agents across the placental barrier. We are currently developing immune competent small animal models to assess the role of reproductive microbiome and the immune cell response at the maternal-fetal interface to determine mechanisms associated with poor pregnancy outcomes and/or transfer of infectious agents across the placental barrier.

Future studies in the Mathiason laboratory will stem from our early successes.  We will continue to investigate:  1) the path leading to the transfer of information from mother-to-offspring… with a focus on (i) the very early events associated with prion infection at the fetal-maternal interface or within the germline, (ii) viral agents that affect or cross the placental barrier culminating in detrimental outcomes to babies born to infected mothers, and 2) the role of hematogenous infections in disease pathogenesis… with a focus on the early spread and conversion competency of blood-borne prions within newly infected hosts, providing a potential alternative means of prion delivery to the CNS.

The intent of these works— to provide basic science principles for continued efforts to mitigate infectious agents via preventative, therapeutic and vaccine therapies. 

Tied closely to the successes my laboratory has enjoyed is the pursuit of strategies to improve science communication and efforts to impact the role of women in science.  The goal of this work is to improve and support the diversity of voices present in leadership roles.​

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1682 Campus Delivery
Fort Collins, Colorado 80523-1682

(970) 491-6144

(970) 491-0603