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Effects of Equine Grass Sickness on Sympathetic Neurons in Prevertebral and Paravertebral Ganglia

Shotton, H.R., Lincoln, J., McGorum, B.C.
Journal of comparative pathology 2011 v.145 no.1 pp. 35-44
apoptosis, fluorescence, fluorescent antibody technique, ganglia, grass sickness, horses, ingestion, neurons, neurotoxicity, neurotoxins, norepinephrine, tyrosine, vasoactive intestinal peptide
Acute equine grass sickness (EGS) is a fatal disease of horses that is thought to be due to ingestion of a neurotoxic agent causing extensive damage to autonomic neurons. The aim of this study was to compare the effects of EGS on neurons in two sympathetic ganglia, the paravertebral cranial cervical ganglion (CCG) and the prevertebral coeliac/cranial mesenteric ganglion (CG/CMG). Specimens from horses with EGS and controls were obtained post mortem and processed using single and double immunofluorescence labelling for PGP 9.5 and HuC/HuD (pan-neuronal markers), TUNEL and caspase 3 (markers for apoptosis), vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) and galanin (markers of the cell body response to injury following axotomy or exposure to sympathetic neurotoxins) and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH, marker for noradrenaline synthesis). In control horses, all neurons contained PGP 9.5 and HuC/HuD. There was a significant loss of PGP 9.5 and HuC/HuD expression in samples from horses with EGS that occurred to a greater extent in the CG/CMG than the CCG. The number of caspase 3-positive neurons increased significantly in both ganglia, but TUNEL staining of sympathetic neurons was only significantly increased in the CG/CMG in EGS. No VIP was observed in any ganglia; however, there was a significant increase in galanin-positive neurons in both ganglia in EGS. In the CCG, there was a significant shift towards increased fluorescence intensity for TH, possibly indicating an initial accumulation of TH within the cell body. In contrast, TH fluorescence intensity was significantly reduced in the CG/CMG in EGS correlating with the greater loss of neurons. These results demonstrate that EGS can induce a cell body response that is similar to the response of sympathetic neurons to a chemical neurotoxin. EGS also causes loss of sympathetic neurons, some of which occurs via apoptosis. Changes were more marked in the CG/CMG than the CCG indicating that the prevertebral ganglia were affected earlier than the paravertebral ganglia in the pathological process and had undergone greater neurodegeneration.