Impact of alpha-tocopherol deficiency and supplementation on sacrocaudalis and gluteal muscle fiber histopathology and morphology in horses

Lauren Bookbinder, Carrie J. Finno, Anna M. Firshman, Scott A. Katzman, Erin Burns, Janel Peterson, Anna Dahlgren, Brittni Ming-Whitfield, Shelby Glessner, Amanda Borer-Matsui, Stephanie J. Valberg

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BACKGROUND: A subset of horses deficient in alpha-tocopherol (α-TP) develop muscle atrophy and vitamin E-responsive myopathy (VEM) characterized by mitochondrial alterations in the sacrocaudalis dorsalis medialis muscle (SC).

OBJECTIVES: To quantify muscle histopathologic abnormalities in subclinical α-TP deficient horses before and after α-TP supplementation and compare with retrospective (r)VEM cases.

ANIMALS: Prospective study; 16 healthy α-TP-deficient Quarter Horses. Retrospective study; 10 retrospective vitamin E-responsive myopathy (rVEM) cases .

METHODS: Blood, SC, and gluteus medius (GM) biopsy specimens were obtained before (day 0) and 56 days after 5000 IU/450 kg horse/day PO water dispersible liquid α-TP (n = 8) or control (n = 8). Muscle fiber morphology and mitochondrial alterations were compared in samples from days 0 and 56 and in rVEM cases.

RESULTS: Mitochondrial alterations more common than our reference range (<2.5% affected fibers) were present in 3/8 control and 4/8 treatment horses on day 0 in SC but not in GM (mean, 2.2; range, 0%-10% of fibers). Supplementation with α-TP for 56 days did not change the percentage of fibers with mitochondrial alterations or anguloid atrophy, or fiber size in GM or SC. Clinical rVEM horses had significantly more mitochondrial alterations (rVEM SC, 13% ± 7%; GM, 3% ± 2%) and anguloid atrophy compared to subclinical day 0 horses.

CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL IMPORTANCE: Clinically normal α-TP-deficient horses can have mitochondrial alterations in the SC that are less severe than in atrophied VEM cases and do not resolve after 56 days of α-TP supplementation. Preventing α-TP deficiency may be of long-term importance for mitochondrial viability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2770-2779
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of veterinary internal medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Authors thank Kentucky Equine Research for providing the vitamin E used in this trial. An abstract of this subject was presented at the 2019 ACVIM Forum, Phoenix, AZ.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Authors. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.


  • atrophy
  • mitochondria
  • myopathy
  • skeletal muscle
  • vitamin E

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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