Samples Needed for Wobbler Syndrome Research

On a warm spring night everyone in the barn is eagerly awaiting a new foal’s arrival. The wait is rewarded with the birth of a big, strong, and beautiful colt. During the next 12 months the foal thrives. The owners dream of having a future champion until one morning the farm manager notices the colt’s gait is abnormal, and he looks somewhat incoordinated (ataxic) in his hindquarters.
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On a warm spring night everyone in the barn is eagerly awaiting a new foal’s arrival. The wait is rewarded with the birth of a big, strong, and beautiful colt. During the next 12 months the foal thrives. The owners dream of having a future champion until one morning the farm manager notices the colt’s gait is abnormal, and he looks somewhat incoordinated (ataxic) in his hindquarters. The veterinarian comes out to the farm, examines the yearling, and takes standing radiographs (X rays) of the cervical vertebrae. Assessment of the radiographs and the clinical signs lead to a diagnosis of wobbler syndrome and a guarded prognosis for any sort of successful athletic career.

This scenario is one that occurs all too often but, with participation from the equine community, University of Kentucky researchers hope to learn more about the genetics behind the disease.

Wobbler syndrome is a disease that affects the horse’s nervous and musculoskeletal systems. It is characterized by a structural narrowing of the vertebral canal in the neck that can produce severe neurologic deficits through cervical spinal cord compression. The cause is thought to be multifactorial with genetics, high planes of nutrition, trauma, rapid growth, and decreased copper/increased zinc levels all potentially important.

The possible role of genetics, in particular, is interesting and remains somewhat controversial. A pedigree analysis several decades ago suggested that inherited genes were involved, yet breeding studies have not demonstrated a clear pattern of inheritance

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