Inhaled endotoxin and organic dust particulates have synergistic proinflammatory effects in equine heaves (organic dust-induced asthma)


R. S. Pirie, Easter Bush Veterinary Centre, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9RG, UK. E-mail:


Background Equine heaves is a naturally occurring organic dust-induced asthma characterized by airway neutrophilia, mucus hypersecretion and obstructive lung dysfunction. However, the relative role of different dust components in disease severity remains unclear.

Objective This study investigated the relative contribution of inhaled endotoxin and organic dust particulates (mainly mould spores) in inducing heaves in heaves-susceptible horses.

Methods Control and heaves-susceptible horses received inhalation challenges with hay dust suspension (HDS) before and after lipopolysaccharide (LPS) depletion. Heaves-susceptible horses also received inhalation challenge with HDS particulates with and without the addition of LPS and were housed in two separate dusty environments during which mould and endotoxin exposure was measured. The airway inflammatory and functional response to each challenge was measured.

Results Depletion of endotoxin from HDS attenuated the airway neutrophilia and abrogated the airway dysfunction induced in heaves horses by inhaled HDS. The airway response was re-established by adding back LPS to the depleted HDS, confirming that the attenuation in airway response was due specifically to endotoxin depletion. Interestingly, the magnitude of alteration in airway response following endotoxin depletion and add-back was greater than that which could be attributed solely to endotoxin per se, indicating that the LPS activity was enhanced by the other dust components. Consistent with this possibility, washed particulates harvested from HDS enhanced the airway response to inhaled LPS in heaves horses. Heaves horses given two different hay/straw challenges had a significantly different severity of airway inflammation and dysfunction, despite airborne dust and endotoxin concentrations in the horses' breathing zones being similar.

Conclusion Although inhaled endotoxin appears not to be the only determinant of disease severity in heaves, it does contribute significantly to the induction of airway inflammation and dysfunction. This contribution is largely via the synergistic action of inhaled endotoxin and organic dust particulates, although other soluble dust components also contribute to a lesser degree.