LIGHT MICROSCOPY OF THE ENTERIC NERVOUS SYSTEM OF HORSES WITH OR WITHOUT EQUINE DYSAUTONOMIA (GRASS SICKNESS): ITS CORRELATION WITH THE MOTOR EFFECTS OF PHYSOSTIGMINE


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Abstract

Light microscopy was undertaken on sections from the caudal flexure of the duodenum and the terminal ileum proximal to the ileocaecal fold in 5 control horses, 5 horses with acute grass sickness (AGS), and 5 horses with chronic grass sickness (CGS). With the exception of the ileal submucous plexus of the CGS group, the AGS group had the lowest number of neurons as measured using a subjective scoring scheme. The proportion of abnormal neurons in the AGS group was similar in both plexuses and both regions, whereas the values for the CGS group were much higher in the duodenal region than in the ileal region. The motility of tissue adjacent to that used for histology was measured isometrically in vitro. The increase in the rate of contractions following exposure to physostigmine was greatest for the AGS group, both from the duodenal and from the ileal region. The latency was longest for the AGS group, suggesting that the material from this group had the least number of active cholinergic neurons. The studies with physostigmine thus indicated that the most severe functional damage occurred in cases of AGS. These findings confirm that extensive damage occurs in the enteric neurons in equine grass sickness. There was good correlation between the functional cholinergic responses and the extent of neuronal degeneration.

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