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Breakthrough Made in Cure For Equine Skin Disease

The elimination of a debilitating, degenerative skin disease in

horses is now possible thanks to the recent identification of a gene

mutation and development of a new diagnostic test by researchers at

the University of California, Davis.

Findings from the study on the genetic cause of Hereditary Equine

Regional Dermal Asthenia (HERDA) which primarily affects the

American quarter horse breed, were reported online May 8 in the

scientific journal Genomics by veterinary geneticist Danika Bannasch

and colleagues at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. A

patent on the newly developed test is pending.

"Identification of the gene enabled us to develop a DNA screening

test to help horse breeders avoid producing horses with this

disease," Bannasch said. "Equally important, the test should prevent

the unnecessary destruction of young horses that actually have less

serious skin irregularities, which can be mistaken for the early

stages of HERDA."

This research represents the first time a scan of the whole horse

genome has been used to identify a novel disease gene in the horse.

These findings were presented to the horse genomics community at the

Plant and Animal Genome XV Conference in January by Rob Tryon, the

graduate student working on the project. Stephen White, a professor

of veterinary dermatology at UC Davis, led the clinical

investigations of HERDA.

About the disease

HERDA causes skin along the saddle area of the horse's back to

stretch and tear easily, making the horse unfit for riding.

Researchers suspect that the disease may be related to a deficiency

in the horse's wound healing process or a malfunction in its normal

inflammatory response system. An earlier study of affected horses by

the UC Davis group demonstrated that the disease cannot be

definitively diagnosed by skin biopsy. Foals affected by the disease

rarely show symptoms at birth, and most cases are not diagnosed until

the horse is about two years old and being broke to ride.

Previous work by the UC Davis group showed that the disease has an

autosomal recessive mode of inheritance and carriers show no signs of

the disease. Breeders may never know that their horses are carriers

of the disease because they usually sell their affected foals before

the horses show symptoms. Since there is no available treatment, most

horses diagnosed with the disease are euthanized because they cannot

be ridden and are unsuitable for future breeding.

Identifying the gene mutation

The UC Davis team members began their search for the mutation with

the entire complement of horse genes, totaling about 25,000 genes.

They were able to narrow the location to chromosome 1, the largest of

the horse chromosomes, by identifying the section of the genome that

was identical in horses affected by the disease. From there, they

were able to zero in on a group of 20 genes in this region by

comparing related regions in the genomes of humans, chimpanzees,

mice, dogs and cows. The team performed a sequence analysis of those

genes, and then identified the mutation.

Screening for this genetic mutation among the study's control group

of unaffected horses suggests that 3.5 percent of American quarter

horses are carriers. Although carriers do not develop symptoms, they

can produce affected foals if bred to other carriers.

Funding for the research was provided by the American Quarter Horse

Foundation and the Center for Equine Health at the UC Davis School of

Veterinary Medicine.

Courtesy: The HorseTV Channel News, http://www.horsetv.com


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