Equine grass sickness (EGS) is a debilitating and often fatal neurodegenerative disease. A presumptive diagnosis of EGS may be made on the basis of clinical signs and subjective ancillary tests, but a definitive antemortem diagnosis can only be made following histopathological examination of intestinal biopsies. It has previously been reported that horses with EGS may show clinical and clinicopathological signs of systemic inflammation. The objective of this study was to (a) quantify acute inflammatory markers in blood samples collected from acute, subacute and chronic EGS cases, and (b) compare them with (i) clinically normal horses co-grazing with acute EGS cases (co-grazers), (ii) horses with other causes of colic and (iii) healthy horses. Serum amyloid A (SAA), serum activin A and plasma fibrinogen were quantified. There were marked increases in SAA and fibrinogen in EGS cases compared with healthy horses, co-grazers and non-inflammatory colic cases. The concentrations of SAA and fibrinogen in EGS cases were not significantly different from inflammatory colic cases. When concentrations of SAA, fibrinogen and activin A in each EGS subgroup were compared, no significant differences were detected. Activin A concentrations were significantly elevated in EGS cases and co-grazing horses; this could reflect the presence of subclinical disease in some horses that do not develop clinical signs of EGS, and suggests widespread exposure to the aetiological agent. When faced with sparse antemortem diagnostic techniques, identification of marked increases in acute phase protein concentrations may help to differentiate EGS from other causes of abdominal pain, such as intestinal obstructions; however, there could be diagnostic difficulty in differentiating other inflammatory abdominal conditions, such as peritonitis or enteritis.
- Acute phase response