Osteochondrosis and copper: histology of articular cartilage from foals out of copper supplemented and non-supplemented dams

E Gee, M Davies, E Firth, L Jeffcott, P Fennessy, T Mogg
Veterinary Journal 2007, 173 (1): 109-17
Copper (Cu) supplementation of dams in late gestation may be protective against articular cartilage abnormalities in foals. Articular cartilage was harvested from 22 Thoroughbred foals at 160 days of age, at sites predisposed to osteochondrosis (OC), and examined for evidence of early cartilage abnormalities and established dyschondroplastic (DCP) lesions to determine if there were any significant differences due to mare Cu supplementation by injection during late gestation, or foal liver Cu concentration. Cu supplemented mares received calcium Cu edetate injections in late gestation (250 mg at around 220, 248, 276 and 304 days gestation, then every two weeks until foaling). Foals were euthanased at 160 days of age and articular cartilage was harvested from four defined sites. Samples were examined for histological appearance of chondrocytes after staining with haematoxylin and eosin, and were also stained with toluidine blue to indicate proteoglycan content. Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity was detected by histochemistry, and histocytochemical techniques were used to determine the expression of cathepsin B. Cu supplementation of the dam, or liver Cu concentration of the foal at birth or 160 days of age had no statistically significant effect on the frequency of cartilage irregularities observed grossly, or abnormalities detected histologically at four defined sites. ALP expression was similar in all samples. Cathepsin B expression varied between sites, and was seen in chondrocyte clusters. The intensity of toludine blue staining varied between sites. Minor histological cartilage abnormalities were observed in cartilage from clinically normal animals. These abnormalities might be 'early' dyschondroplastic lesions, which could resolve or progress. The role of Cu in the development, resolution or progression of dyschondroplastic lesions is poorly understood.

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