Reviewing the mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS), it is proposed that the fundamental mechanism of this syndrome, which includes early fetal loss, late fetal loss, uveitis, pericarditis, and encephalitis, is tissue penetration by septic barbed setal fragments (septic penetrating setae) from Eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum). Once ingested, these barbed setal fragments migrate through moving tissues, followed by rapid hematogenous spread of bacteria, bacterial emboli, and/or septic fragments of setae (septic penetrating setal emboli), collectively referred to as septic materials. Pathogenic bacteria, therefore, enter the horse as hitchhikers on or in the caterpillar setal fragments, and MRLS is caused by 1) the barbed setal fragments’ ability to penetrate moving tissues, including blood vessels, releasing septic materials, which rapidly distribute hematogenously; 2) the high sensitivity of the pregnant mare to bacteria from such septic materials introduced into the uterus, fetal membranes, or fetal fluids; 3) the unusually broad spectrum of bacterial pathogens carried on or in the setal fragments; and 4) the less effective antibacterial responses in certain susceptible extracellular fluids (e.g., fetal, ocular, pericardial, and cerebrospinal fluids). The driving force for MRLS pathology, including abortions, is septic material- induced bacterial proliferation, which provides a critical amplification step, enabling approximately 1-gram caterpillars to rapidly (32 hours) cause abortions in 680-kg (1,500- lb) mares. Calculations based on the unique eye data suggest that the actual number of distributing effective septic material quanta in field cases may be small—on the order of 10/horse/day—accounting for the lack of systemic clinical signs in affected horses. Therefore, it is proposed that MRLS starts with ingestion of Eastern tent caterpillars, followed by barbed setal fragments randomly penetrating intestinal tissues, including thinwalled venules and other blood vessels, with release of septic material that distributes hematogenously to all points in the body. Identification of abortigenic activity with the integument of the caterpillar and recent findings of large numbers of granulomatous lesions containing setal fragments in the intestines of pigs and rats directly supports the septic penetrating setal portion of the hypothesis. Analysis of the clinical syndromes and a toxicokinetic/ statistical analysis of MRLS suggest that setally-mediated introduction of septic material into blood vessels and other tissues may be key to understanding the very unusual toxicokinetics and pathogenesis of the unique group of syndromes that constitute MRLS. Like MRLS itself, this hypothesis is unique. The septic penetrating setal emboli portion is without precedent, is based on the unique clinical characteristics of MRLS, and appears well supported by ongoing experimental approaches.

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Notes/Citation Information

Published in The International Journal of Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine, v. 2, no. 2, p. 142-158.

© Thomas Tobin, Lexington, KY, 2004

The copyright holder has granted the permission for posting the article here.

Funding Information

Supported by grants from the USDA Agriculture Research Service Specific Cooperative Agreement #58-6401-2-0025 for Forage-Animal Production Research, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association Foundation, the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and Mrs. John Hay Whitney.

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Published as Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station Article #04-14-024 with the approval of the Dean and Director, College of Agriculture and Kentucky Agriculture Experiment Station.