An investigation of the equine epidermal growth factor system during hyperinsulinemic laminitis
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Equine laminitis is a disease of the digital epidermal lamellae typified by epidermal cell proliferation and structural collapse. Most commonly the disease is caused by hyperinsulinemia, although the pathogenesis is incompletely understood. Insulin can activate the epidermal growth factor (EGF) system in other species and the present study tested the hypothesis that upregulation of EGF receptor (EGFR) signalling is a key factor in laminitis pathophysiology. First, we examined lamellar tissue from healthy Standardbred horses and those with induced hyperinsulinemia and laminitis for EGFR distribution and quantity using immunostaining and gene expression, respectively. Phosphorylation of EGFR was also quantified. Next, plasma EGF concentrations were compared in healthy and insulin-infused horses, and in healthy and insulin-dysregulated ponies before and after feeding. The EGFR were localised to the secondary epidermal lamellae, with stronger staining in parabasal, rather than basal, cells. No change in EGFR gene expression occurred with laminitis, although the receptor showed some phosphorylation. No difference was seen in EGF concentrations in horses, but in insulin-dysregulated ponies mean, post-prandial EGF concentrations were almost three times higher than in healthy ponies (274 ± 90 vs. 97.4 ± 20.9 pg/mL, P = 0.05). Although the EGFR does not appear to play a major pathogenic role in hyperinsulinemic laminitis, the significance of increased EGF in insulin-dysregulated ponies deserves further investigation.