Molecular insights into dietary induced colic in the horse

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Equine colic, a disorder manifested in abdominal pain, is the most frequent cause of emergency treatment and death in horses. Colic often requires intestinal surgery, subsequent hospitalisation and post operative care, with a strong risk of complications arising from surgery. Therefore strategies that explore approaches for preventing the condition are essential. To this end, a better understanding of the factors and mechanisms that lead to the development of colic and related intestinal diseases in the horse allows the design of preventive procedures.


Colic is a multifactorial disorder that appears to be induced by environmental factors and possibly a genetic predisposition. One factor that seems to influence the risk of developing colic is the excessive consumption of diets containing high levels of carbohydrates. Therefore, major efforts have been made by various laboratories and institutions across the world to study the type and digestibility of various feed in order to formulate accurate and safe feed components and proportions. However, relatively little work has been carried out to characterise, in detail, the carbohydrate digestive and absorptive capacity and mechanisms underlying the potential adaptive response of equine gut epithelium to a changing diet.


This review focuses on advances made towards understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in digestion and absorption of dietary carbohydrates in the equine gastrointestinal tract and the implication of these processes for the whole body physiology. It addresses the underlying mechanisms that may govern the adaptive response of equine small intestine to increased dietary hydrolysable carbohydrates. Furthermore, it describes changes that occur in the equine large intestinal microbiology and host tissue biology brought about by alterations in diet and in colic. It is hoped that a better understanding of the molecular and cellular processes that play important roles in the physiology and pathology of the equine gastrointestinal tract will assist the development of effective strategies to prevent equine colic.

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