A research project funded by The Horse Trust has discovered how proteins in horse’s mucus change with the development of equine respiratory disease.

A research project funded by The Horse Trust has discovered how proteins in horse’s mucus change with the development of equine respiratory disease. The discovery may lead to the development of new treatments for this condition.
Equine respiratory diseaseRespiratory problems are common in horses, with various surveys reporting that respiratory airway inflammation occurs in between 10 and 50% of competition and pleasure horses. Respiratory problems not only reduce the quality of a horse’s life, but are also a common cause of exercise intolerance.
Equine respiratory problems are often associated with an accumulation of mucus in the horse’s airways and with the mucus becoming more viscous and hard to clear.
Research that was given funding by The Horse Trust has shown that particular genes that regulate mucus proteins, known as mucins, undergo various changes in equine respiratory disease. This research builds on previous work performed by the researchers that received support from the Horserace Betting Levy Board.
The research was led by Liverpool University‘s Peter Clegg, in collaboration with David Thornton from the University of Manchester.
It was found that horses with respiratory disease have higher levels of a particular mucin, known as Muc5b. A second mucin, Muc5AC was also increased in respiratory disease, but was present in much lower levels than Muc5b. Alterations in both mucin genes, and their resultant proteins are likely to be a major cause of the increased viscosity of mucus in horses with respiratory disease.
Professor Peter Clegg, University of LiverpoolProf Clegg discovered this change by collecting and examining both the respiratory secretions, and the cells that lined the airway from horses both with and without respiratory disease.

He said: “Understanding how mucins change in respiratory disease is the first step in developing new treatments for this condition. Once we are able to find how these changes are regulated, we may be able to develop better treatments for equine respiratory disease.”
Prof Clegg also found that horses which produced high levels of mucin genes have increased numbers of goblet cells in their airways, indicating that a key regulatory step may be the actual production and development of the glandular cells, rather than the absolute production of the mucin proteins.
The next stage of research will be to look at how mucin levels are controlled and affected by treatment in vitro. The ability to affect mucin production and its viscosity would hugely improve the veterinary management of horses with all forms of respiratory disease, and ultimately improve the welfare of all types of horses
Prof Clegg’s research into horse mucins is to be submitted to the Equine Veterinary Journal and American Journal of Physiology.

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