Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis is the most important infectious neurologic disease of horses in the Western Hemisphere. Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis can interfere with a horse's ability to race, work, and perform; untreated, EPM can be lethal. Antemortem diagnosis of EPM is challenging, requiring careful evaluation of the animal's history, clinical signs, and laboratory data, with rigorous exclusion of other causes.
Therapeutic approaches to EPM are evolving. First-generation therapeutic approaches for EPM were based on the classic anti–Toxoplasma gondii pyrimethamine–sulfonamide combinations; treatment is prolonged and can be associated with a considerable relapse rate, which may be associated with the difficulty in maintaining effective CNS concentrations of pyrimethamine. Second-generation therapeutic approaches are based on diclazuril and related triazine agentsa; in 2001, toltrazuril sulfoneb (ponazuril) became the first FDA-approved treatment for EPM. Triazine agents may have prolonged plasma half-lives, and their therapeutic efficacy would likely be enhanced by application of loading-dose schedules. A pyrimethamine-sulfonamide combination formulationc received FDA approval in 2004 for the treatment of EPM. Additionally, a diclazuril-based topical feed dressing formulationd received FDA approval in 2011. The ideal therapeutic agents for use against EPM would be effective when administered orally, with high efficacy against Sarcocystis neurona and minimal toxicity for horses. This article reviews the current information available for EPM, including the clinical pharmacology and efficacy of FDA-approved and nonapproved investigational medications for the treatment or prophylaxis of EPM.
Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis is caused by 2 apicomplexan protozoal parasites: S neurona and, much less commonly, Neospora hughesi. Location of the causative organism in the CNS is random, so clinical signs of EPM are highly variable. Any combination of neurologic signs is possible, although spinal cord involvement is most common. Onset may be gradual or acute, with the usual pattern being mild clinical signs that progress with time. Furthermore, the intracellular localization of the causative organisms in the CNS creates difficulties for chemotherapeutic approaches and may also interfere with host-based immunologic defenses. Antemortem diagnosis of EPM is particularly challenging, requiring careful evaluation of the animal's history, clinical signs, and laboratory data, with rigorous exclusion of other causes. Definitive diagnosis of EPM is dependent on necropsy detection of typical CNS lesions of the disease or presence of the appropriate causative organisms.
Although careful clinical examination remains the most important antemortem diagnostic technique for EPM, laboratory methods have been developed to assist clinical diagnosis. As such, for horses with clinical signs consistent with EPM, it is optimal to perform immunoblotting, an indirect florescent antibody test, or ELISA analyses on blood and CSF samples prior to diagnosis and initiation of treatment.
Preventative approaches to EPM are not well defined. Prevention of EPM with daily pyrantel tartratee administration at the current labeled dose has not been effective in immunocompetent horses1 or in interferon-γ knockout mice,2 even though the compound is active against S neurona in vitro.3 An EPM vaccine based on homogenates of S neurona merozoites with conditional licensure has been marketed for prevention of EPM, but this vaccine was removed from the market due to lack of efficacy data in prospective studies.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Dirikolu, L.; Foreman, Jonathan H.; and Tobin, Thomas, "Current therapeutic approaches to equine protozoal myeloencephalitis" (2013). Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center Faculty Publications. 70.