Equine degenerative myeloencephalopathy (EDM) is characterized by a symmetric general proprioceptive ataxia in young horses, and is likely underdiagnosed for 2 reasons: first, clinical signs overlap those of cervical vertebral compressive myelopathy; second, histologic lesions—including axonal spheroids in specific tracts of the somatosensory and motor systems—may be subtle. The purpose of this study was (1) to utilize immunohistochemical (IHC) markers to trace axons in the spinocuneocerebellar, dorsal column–medial lemniscal, and dorsospinocerebellar tracts in healthy horses and (2) to determine the IHC staining characteristics of the neurons and degenerated axons along the somatosensory tracts in EDM-affected horses. Examination of brain, spinal cord, and nerves was performed on 2 age-matched control horses, 3 EDM-affected horses, and 2 age-matched disease-control horses via IHC for calbindin, vesicular glutamate transporter 2, parvalbumin, calretinin, glutamic acid decarboxylase, and glial fibrillary acidic protein. Primary afferent axons of the spinocuneocerebellar, dorsal column–medial lemniscal, and dorsospinocerebellar tracts were successfully traced with calretinin. Calretinin-positive cell bodies were identified in a subset of neurons in the dorsal root ganglia, suggesting that calretinin IHC could be used to trace axonal projections from these cell bodies. Calretinin-immunoreactive spheroids were present in EDM-affected horses within the nuclei cuneatus medialis, cuneatus lateralis, and thoracicus. Neurons within those nuclei were calretinin negative. Cell bodies of degenerated axons in EDM-affected horses are likely located in the dorsal root ganglia. These findings support the role of sensory axonal degeneration in the pathogenesis of EDM and provide a method to highlight tracts with axonal spheroids to aid in the diagnosis of this neurodegenerative disease.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The author(s) declared the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Funding for this study was provided by the University of Minnesota Equine Center. Support for Dr Finno's postdoctoral training was provided by the Morris Animal Foundation (D12EQ-401) and the National Institutes of Health )1K01OD015134-01A1).
- calcium-binding proteins
- medulla oblongata neuroaxonal dystrophies
- spinal cord