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Equine tendon research indicates activity rather than genetics creates vulnerability

Lauren Detlefsen’s research on equine tendon vulnerability didn’t go as planned. But since Detlefsen’s expectations involved a genetic reason for equine tendon problems, to some extent she addressed the issue of whether genetics or activity was responsible for tendon situation.

Detlefsen, who is affiliated with the Gluck Equine Research Center that is part of the University of Kentucky’s Department of Veterinary Science, was the lead author on “Differential Gene Expression In Equine Tendon As A Function Of Maturation and

Loading,” which was presented in poster format at the International Conference on the Status of Plant and Animal Genome Research in San Diego January 9-13. The authors also included James MacLeod of the Gluck Equine Research Center and Janet Patterson-Kane of the University of Glasgow’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

“My original hope was to find some glaring gene that would explain everything,” Detlefsen said.

The research leaned toward tendon vulnerability being based on a blank slate rather than genetically pre-programmed for loading. “Maybe they are pre-programmed,” Detlefsen said. “The work doesn’t show that.”

Extensor flexor tendon measurements of 24 horses euthanized for reasons other than tendon injury seemed to indicate that conditions other than genes were responsible for tendon problems. The research covered five fetal losses, six horses euthanized between birth and two weeks old, two horses between the ages of one and six months, six horses between two and seven years who had active racing careers, and five horses between two and seven years who did not race. Out of six candidate genes studied, only one gene was different between the fetal horses (who would not have been subject to load stress), and the horses that were born.

The difference between one of the genes, as well as the fact that other genes were not studied, leaves the window open for Detlefsen’s original hypothesis. “I would really like to do a really more comprehensive gene analysis,” she said.

The type of tendon studied also leaves room for additional research. “The flexor tendon is much more vulnerable than the extensor tendon,” Detlefsen said.

“There’s a lot of components,” Detlefsen said. “That should all be taken into account.”

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