Microbiopsy May Predict Performance

A new, simple muscular microbiopsy technique can reveal important information about a horse's athletic potential as well as possible pathologies that can affect performance, according to a new study by Belgian researchers.

By analyzing mitochondrial respiration via high resolution respirometry (HRR), researchers can attribute values to the functional capacity of muscle cells to "breathe" and make use of available oxygen, according to Dominique Votion, PhD, DVM, researcher at the Equine European Center of Mont-le-Soie (University of Liège, Belgium) and primary author of the study. High values of maximal mitochondrial respiration, maximal capacity of the electron transport system, and the ratios between the two are directly linked to increased athletic performance, she said.

In the study, Votion and her team microbiopsied the shoulder muscles of 20 endurance horses--including 13 from the French national team--and 10 trotters in track training. Their results were compared to performance results of these horses during training events and races up to one month later. "The horses with the highest HRR values had the best results in their respective events," Votion said during the presentation of her study at the 36th Equine Research Day, held in February in Paris.

Likewise, low HRR values predicted poor performance, she said, and that even detected a yet-unseen pathology in one horse. "The lowest values of respiration were observed in a trotter who later experienced several episodes of rhabdomyolysis," a form of exercise-induced myopathy, Votion said.

The microbiopsies (20 mg of muscular tissue) were easily obtained on site at the horses' stables with local anesthetic and without complications.

Although the study was carried out on racing horses, the technique applies to all performance horses, according to Votion.

"Regardless of the discipline--whether endurance, sprint racing, show jumping, dressage, or other sports--the production of energy via mitochondrial respiration is essential," she said. "If it is insufficient, this can lead to fatigue or even myopathies."

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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