Cerebellar Abiotrophy: Not Just for Arabians?

Cerebellar abiotrophy (CA) might be able to jump the “breed barrier” and affect other types of horses.
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A severe, incurable neurologic disorder thought to affect primarily Arabian horses–cerebellar abiotrophy (CA)–might be able to jump the "breed barrier" and affect other types of horses, according to a University of California, Davis, research team. Other breeds of horses (mostly those with Arabians in their lineage) could be at risk for carrying the CA mutation, which is caused by a mutation on a certain segment of DNA.

Cerebellar abiotrophy is caused by the loss of a specific type of neuron in the cerebellum (the part of the brain that controls a horse’s sensory perception, coordination, and motor control). As a result, affected foals suffer from head tremors and a lack of equilibrium, among other neurologic deficits. Due to the absence of an effective treatment approach the more severely affected foals are routinely euthanized early in life because of the risk they would pose to themselves and others as adults.

Cecilia Penedo, PhD, of the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory (VGL), along with Leah Brault, PhD, who worked on the continuing CA project at UC Davis during her doctoral studies, identified a genetic mutation associated with CA in 2010. But they began to wonder if the Arabian’s role in the development of many other breeds could mean that these breeds could have inherited the CA mutation.

Brault and Penedo tested archived DNA samples at the VGL from 1,845 horses of 31 different breeds (not including Arabians) to determine if the CA mutation was present in any other breeds. At least 40 horses from each breed were tested. Interestingly, the study found that six of 1,845 non-Arabian horses carried the CA mutation. The affected horses included a Welsh Pony, two Trakehners, and three Bashkir Curlies. The team noted that all of these horses were heterozygous (one mutated gene in a pair) rather than homozygous (two mutated genes in a pair), meaning the horses carried CA but were not clinically affected by the disorder

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Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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