Progenitor Cells in Healthy and Laminitic Hooves (AAEP 2012)

Laminitis is a complicated equine condition that has the attention of researchers and veterinarians around the world. While some explore the big picture--such as managing horses with this debilitating disease--others examine the smaller aspects, right down to the cells that make up both the healthy and affected hoof.

A research team from the at Louisiana State University's School of Veterinary Medicine recently compared adult progenitor cell characteristics from healthy and laminitic horse hooves. Mandi J. Lopez, DVM, MS, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, associate professor of veterinary surgery in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences presented their results at the 2012 American Association of Equine Practitioners convention, held Dec. 1-5 in Anaheim, Calif.

Progenitor cells are, essentially, immature cells that can divide and are multipotent (capable of becoming different tissues). Lopez explained that this allows the cells to contribute to healing and maintaining tissues with many different cell types, such as the hoof. Lopez and colleagues hypothesized that "laminitis interferes with the normal function of progenitor cells in the hoof." To test this hypothesis, they developed a model to study hoof progenitor cells in the laboratory.

The team collected progenitor cells from healthy and laminitic horses and grew them in the laboratory. This allowed them to compare the speed at which the cells grew and multiplied; the capability of the cells to mature into cells from other tissues, fat, bone, and cartilage (a process called differentiation); and the behavior of the cells as they grew in the laboratory, Lopez said.

Lopez and colleagues found that:

  • The number of progenitor cells in the tissue did not differ among normal and laminitic hooves;
  • Cells from laminitic hooves tended to grow faster than those from normal hooves;
  • The cells from normal and laminitis affected hooves were capable of becoming fat, bone, and cartilage, confirming that they were multipotent; and
  • The cells from normal and laminitis affected hooves remained immature during an extended period of time in growth medium in the laboratory.

So what does this all mean?

These results show that there are multipotent progenitor cells in both normal hooves and those with laminitis, Lopez said; however, the cells might be misdirected by the adverse conditions in the hoof brought on by laminitis so that that they do not form normal hoof tissue.

"This new model provides a very precise method to look at ways to protect the stem cells in the hoof from the effects of laminitis and also treatments to direct them to return to their normal function in affected hooves," Lopez explained. "Progenitor cells in the hoof are a promising target for treatment and prevention of laminitis. This model may help expose new information about a devastating problem in equine companions."

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