Background Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) are neurodegenerative diseases that affect several mammalian species. At least three factors related to the host prion protein are known to modulate susceptibility or resistance to a TSE: amino acid sequence, atypical number of octapeptide repeats, and expression level. These factors have been extensively studied in breeds of Bos taurus cattle in relation to classical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). However, little is currently known about these factors in Bos indicus purebred or B. indicus × B. taurus composite cattle. The goal of our study was to establish the frequency of markers associated with enhanced susceptibility or resistance to classical BSE in B. indicus purebred and composite cattle. Results No novel or TSE-associated PRNP-encoded amino acid polymorphisms were observed for B. indicus purebred and composite cattle, and all had the typical number of octapeptide repeats. However, differences were observed in the frequencies of the 23-bp and 12-bp insertion/deletion (indel) polymorphisms associated with two bovine PRNP transcription regulatory sites. Compared to B. taurus, B. indicus purebred and composite cattle had a significantly lower frequency of 23-bp insertion alleles and homozygous genotypes. Conversely, B. indicus purebred cattle had a significantly higher frequency of 12-bp insertion alleles and homozygous genotypes in relation to both B. taurus and composite cattle. The origin of these disparities can be attributed to a significantly different haplotype structure within each species. Conclusion The frequencies of the 23-bp and 12-bp indels were significantly different between B. indicus and B. taurus cattle. No other known or potential risk factors were detected for the B. indicus purebred and composite cattle. To date, no consensus exists regarding which bovine PRNP indel region is more influential with respect to classical BSE. Should one particular indel region and associated genotypes prove more influential with respect to the incidence of classical BSE, differences regarding overall susceptibility and resistance for B. indicus and B. taurus cattle may be elucidated.