Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Veterinary Physiology, Pharmacology, and Toxicology (Veterinary Medical Sciences)

Document Type



Acute laminitis is a severely debilitating disease of the laminae of the equine digit; however, the mechanism(s) of pathogenesis have yet to be fully elucidated. In physiologic states, the endothelium synthesizes substances, such as nitric oxide (NO; vasodilator) and endothelin-1 (ET-1; profound vasoconstrictor), which play a crucial role in vasomotor regulation. The overall hypothesis is that the initiating factor in the onset of acute laminitis is a disruption in the balance between NO and ET-1, which leads to digital vasoconstriction and subsequent laminar ischemic necrosis. In vitro studies with digital vessels from healthy horses and horses with naturally-acquired laminitis determined that ET-1 caused concentration-dependent, sustained contraction of arteries and more profound contraction of veins, and incubation with the nonselective ET receptor antagonist (PD145065) at a 10-5 M concentration abolished these contractile effects. ET-1 was then administered into the digit of healthy conscious horses, which resulted in reduced blood flow and the ET antagonist, especially in combination with a NO donor, reversed these reductions. Naturally-acquired laminitic horses had a trend for increased jugular and cephalic venous plasma ET-like immunoreactivity, and horses during the development of black walnut extract (BWE)-induced laminitis developed increased digital venous plasma ET-like immunoreactivity. After validation for equine tissues, ET-1 immunohistochemical staining was conducted on digital vascular and laminar tissues, but no notable differences were found between healthy and naturally-acquired or experimentally-induced laminitic horses. During the developmental stages of BWE-induced laminitis, digital blood flow initially decreased followed by hyperemia, corresponding with demonstration of clinical signs of laminitis. Administration of the ET antagonist, and the antagonist combined with a NO donor, improved Starling force alterations by improving digital vascular resistances and blood flow. Utilizing digital vessel rings from BWE-treated horses, ET-1 caused a concentration-dependent contraction in vitro that was abolished by the ET antagonist. Endothelium-dependent vasodilation was decreased in these vessels, demonstrating possible altered endothelial function due to BWE administration. Based on the results of these studies, ET-1 appears to play a role in the pathophysiology of acute laminitis in horses and continued investigations evaluating ET antagonists as preventative and therapeutic agents for this devastating disease are warranted.



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Committee Chair

Rustin Moore