Chronic equine laminitis causes persistent pain and lameness in affected animals and often necessitates euthanasia when pain management strategies become ineffective. Published studies as well as anecdotal reports suggest that this chronic inflammatory disease is associated with systemic alterations in immune responsiveness, perhaps involving an autoimmune component. We investigated this broad hypothesis by measuring a variety of immune indicators in healthy control horses (CON) and horses with chronic laminitis (LMN). We found that white blood cells from LMN horses produced more IFNγ than did cells from CON horses when stimulated in vitro with polyinosinic-polycytidylic acid [poly(I:C)], possibly due to an elevated number of circulating monocytes. No differences between groups were observed in plasma concentrations of IgG, IgA, IgM, IgE, or rheumatoid factor. Laminar tissue from LMN horses expressed elevated levels of keratinocyte damage-related genes as well as inflammatory cytokines and chemokines, which corresponded with a modest amount of neutrophil infiltration as shown by histological staining of fixed tissue and accumulation of neutrophil elastase protein. Taken together, our results do not support the hypothesis of an autoimmune component in chronic laminitis, although the strong induction of neutrophil chemokines and the presence of tissue neutrophils suggests that this cell type is likely involved in perpetuating the inflammation and tissue damage associated with this disease.
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