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New DNA Test Will Help Breeders Prevent Equine Cerebellar Abiotrophy

September 24, 2008

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Cecilia Penedo, PhD, a geneticist at the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, has developed a genetic test to screen for equine cerebellar abiotrophy, a genetic, neurological condition found almost exclusively in Arabian horses.

The disease is transmitted when two carrier horses are bred. A foal has a 25% chance of receiving the genes that cause the disease, which manifests itself shortly after birth. The disease causes the death of neurons in the cerebellum of affected foals. The horses may have mild to severe tremors of the head, and they can easily lose their balance. Horses affected by cerebellar abiotrophy are prone to falls, making them unsafe to ride and more likely to become injured.  

Research began on cerebellar abiotrophy when geneticist Ann Bowling started a project many years ago at the School of Veterinary Medicine in 1985. Several breeders have assisted in identifying Arabian equine families affected by the genetic condition, and financial support has come from the Arabian Horse Foundation and others.