Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers designed to amplify the octapeptide repeat region of the bovine prion gene were used to test the association of genotypes with bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE) in 56 BSE-affected and 177 unaffected animals. Three alleles (A,B,C) were detected as single-strand conformation polymorphisms (SSCPs) and two alleles (1,2--representing six or five copies of the octapeptide repeat respectively) were detected as amplified double-strand fragment length polymorphisms (AMFLPs). Observed genotypes of SSCPs and AMFLPs were analysed by chi-square. The SSCP genotypes of nuclear family members of animals with BSE and BSE-affected animals were different (P < 0.001, P < 0.01) from unrelated animals of the same breed without BSE. No genotypic differences were found between the BSE-affected animals and their relatives (P > 0.469). No AMFLP genotypic differences were detected between BSE-affected animals, their relatives, unrelated animals of the same breed or animals of different breeds (P > 0.05). These data suggest that BSE-affected animals and their relatives are more likely to have the AA SSCP genotype than unrelated animals of the same breed or animals of different breeds.