Some signs of a rare nerve disorder in horses are similar to those in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders, a new study shows.
The deadly disease in horses — called equine grass sickness — could offer clues about the human conditions, according to the researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
“This is the first study to show similarities between an apparently unrelated neurodegenerative disease of large animals and human neurological conditions,” said study author Dr. Thomas Wishart. “Although the causes of these conditions are unlikely to be shared, the findings suggest that similar mechanisms could be involved in the later stages of disease.”
The causes of grass sickness, which attacks nerve cells and leads to stomach problems and muscle tremor, are unknown.
The investigators analyzed nerve tissue from six horses killed by the disease. They discovered proteins commonly found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, including a buildup of amyloid protein.
However, findings of animal studies don’t necessarily apply to humans.
More than 500 proteins were altered in the nerve tissue of the horses killed by grass sickness, according to the study, published recently in the journal Molecular and Cellular Proteomics.
The findings could lead to new ways to test horses for the condition, which can be difficult to diagnose and can result in death within a few days. In the United Kingdom, about 2 percent of horses die from grass sickness each year, the researchers said.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about Alzheimer’s disease.