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Summary

This study documents the examination of 17 horses (both sexes, 3–18 years old) suffering from spontaneous equine recurrent uveitis (ERU). Vitreal samples obtained by pars plana vitrectomy were examined macroscopically and ultrastructurally, and in most cases also by cultural examination, by microscopic agglutination test (MAT) and by polymerase chain reaction. In 24% (4/17) of the animals, ultrastructural examination by electron microscopy revealed intact leptospiral bacteria in the vitreous. The leptospires were detected freely in the vitreous and also incorporated by a phagocyte. They were surrounded by a rim of proteinaceous material which was reduced around a phagocytosed leptospira. Ninety-four per cent (16/17) of the vitreal samples presented significant antibody levels in the MAT, mostly against leptospiral serovar Grippotyphosa. Seventy-five per cent (9/12) of bacterial culture examinations were positive for leptospira. Polymerase chain reaction was positive in all (16/16) examinations performed. Our findings support previous reports suggesting that leptospires play an important role in the pathogenesis of ERU. Interestingly, this study found leptospires after secondary and later acute episodes. A persistent leptospiral infection is therefore suggested as the cause of ERU.