In the horse, carbohydrate overload is thought to play an integral role in the onset of laminitis by drastically altering the profile of bacterial populations in the hindgut. The objectives of this study were to develop and validate microbial ecology methods to monitor changes in bacterial populations throughout the course of experimentally induced laminitis and to identify the predominant oligofructose-utilizing organisms. Laminitis was induced in five horses by administration of oligofructose. Faecal specimens were collected at 8 h intervals from 72 h before to 72 h after the administration of oligofructose. Hindgut microbiota able to utilize oligofructose were enumerated throughout the course of the experiment using habitat-simulating medium. Isolates were collected and representatives identified by 16S rRNA gene sequencing. The majority of these isolates collected belonged to the genus Streptococcus, 91% of which were identified as being most closely related to Streptococcus infantarius ssp. coli. Furthermore, S. infantarius ssp. coli was the predominant oligofructose-utilizing organism isolated before the onset of lameness. Fluorescence in situ hybridization probes developed to specifically target the isolated Streptococcus spp. demonstrated marked population increases between 8 and 16 h post oligofructose administration. This was followed by a rapid population decline which corresponded with a sharp decline in faecal pH and subsequently lameness at 24–32 h post oligofructose administration. This research suggests that streptococci within the Streptococcus bovis/equinus complex may be involved in the series of events which precede the onset of laminitis in the horse.
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