Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Summary In recent years, distinct changes in regulatory peptides have been found in a number of gastrointestinal diseases. Grass sickness is a fatal disease of horses for which the etiology has yet to be fully ascertained. In this study, the peptide-containing nerves and ganglionic and mucosal endocrine cells of the ileum, colon and rectum were investigated in horses with sub-acute or chronic grass sickness and compared with normal controls using immunocytochemistry, at both the light and electron microscopical levels, and radioimmunoassay. A substantial loss of both peptide-containing cells and nerves was found in all of the sick horses, particularly in the ileum. Electron microscopy revealed marked degeneration of nerves in the gut wall. fibers containing granules immunostained for substance P or VIP, using the immunogold staining technique, underwent extensive degranulation in grass sickness, with the formation of multiple vacuoles. Radioimmunoassay of peptide content also showed that the most drastic changes occurred in the ileum. For example, VIP content was significantly reduced from 109±19.8 (mean±SEM) pmoles/g in controls to 6.8±1.4 pmoles/g in grass sickness (p〈0.001) and substance P from 65.9±8.1 to 31.3±9.5 (p〈0.02). These results may have applications in the diagnosis and treatment of grass sickness.
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