• Open Access

Endotoxemia in Horses: A Review of Cellular and Humoral Mediators Involved in its Pathogenesis


  • Debra Deem Morris DVM, MS

    1. Departments of Large Animal Medicine and Physiology/Pharmacology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia
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      Department of Large Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602


Endotoxemia remains the leading cause of death in horses, being intimately involved in the pathogenesis of gastrointestinal disorders that cause colic and neonatal foal septicemia. Endotoxins, normally present within the bowel, gain access to the blood across damaged intestinal mucosa, or endotoxemia occurs when gram negative organisms proliferate in tissues. Endotoxins are removed from the circulation by the mononuclear phagocyte system, and the response of mononuclear phagocytes to these Iipopolysaccharides (LPS) play an important role in determining the severity of clinical disease. Macrophages become highly activated for enhanced secretory, phagocytic and cidal functions by LPS. Macrophage-derived cytokines are responsible for many of the pathophysiologic consequences of endotoxemia. The arachidonic acid metabolites, prostacyclin and thromboxane A2 likely mediate early hemodynamic dysfunction and the leukotrienes may potentiate tissue ischemia during endotoxemia. Interleukin 1 (IL-1) induces fever and is responsible for the inflammatory cascade, which constitutes the acute phase response. Tumor necrosis factor (TNF), an important proximal mediator of the effects of LPS, acts to initiate events and formation of other molecules that affect shock and tissue injury. Systemic administration of TNF produces most of the physiologic derangements that are associated with endotoxemia and antibodies that are directed against TNF significantly reduce LPS-induced mortality in experimental animals. In response to endotoxins, mononuclear phagocytes express thromboplastin-like procoagulant activity (PCA), which initiates microvascular thrombosis. Both II-1 and TNF induce PCA expression, creating a positive feedback loop for LPS-induced coagulopathy. A macrophage-derived platelet activating factor contributes to coagulation dysfunction and further stimulates arachidonic acid metabolism. The ultimate consequences of endotoxemia are multiple system organ failure and death. The numerous feedback loops and intertwining cascades of mediators during endotoxemia defy simplistic methods of treatment. The optimal therapy likely involves methods to alter the generation of inflammatory mediators by mononuclear phagocytes.