Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Agriculture, Food and Environment


Veterinary Science

First Advisor

Dr. James N. MacLeod


Cervical stenotic myelopathy (CSM) is an important musculoskeletal and neurologic disease of the horse. Clinical disease occurs due to malformations of the vertebrae in the neck causing stenosis of the cervical vertebral canal and subsequent spinal cord compression. The disease is multifactorial in nature, therefore a clearer understanding of the etiology and pathogenesis of CSM will allow for improved management and therapeutic practices. This thesis examines issues of equine CSM diagnosis, skeletal tissue pathology, and inherited genetic determinants utilizing advances in biomedical imaging technologies and equine genomics. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data provided a more complete assessment of the cervical column through image acquisition in multiple planes. First, MRI was compared to standing cervical radiographs for detection of stenosis. Using canal area or the cord canal area ratio, MRI more accurately predicted sites of compression in CSM cases. Secondly, articular process skeletal pathology localized on MRI was found to be more frequent and severe in CSM horses compared to controls. In addition, lesions were generalized throughout the cervical column and not limited to the spinal cord compression sites. A subset of lesions identified on MRI was evaluated using micro-CT and histopathology. Osteochondrosis, osseous cyst-like structures, fibrous tissue replacement of bone, and osteosclerosis were observed. These lesions support likely developmental aberrations of vertebral bone and cartilage maturation with secondary biomechanical influences. Bone cyst-like structures are a novel finding in this disease. Finally, the long-standing question of the contribution of genetic determinants to CSM was investigated using a genome wide association study (GWAS). Multiple significant loci were identified supporting the influence of a complex genetic trait in clinical disease. A simple Mendelian trait controlled by one gene is unlikely given the detection of variants across multiple chromosomes. Major contributions from this research include documentation of articular process bone and cartilage pathology in horses with CSM, support for abnormal cervical vertebrae development being an important contributing factor in the etiology and/or pathogenesis of equine CSM, and evidence that multiple genetic loci contribute to the CSM disease phenotype.