In the foot of the horse, arteriovenous anastomoses (AVAs) of epithelioid type occurred in the dermis of the coronary band, in the coronary and terminal papillae, in neurovascular bundles and at the entrance to and along the length of the dermal laminae. A particular feature of the epithelioid segment of AVAs in the horse, compared with that of other species, was the height and surface complexity of many of the endothelial cells. They extended into the lumen, forming undercut and tunnel-like areas which correlated with the characteristic surface marking of AVAs observed in vascular casts. The number of cell organelles, including the concentration of vesicles in the luminal cytoplasm, suggested cells with a high metabolic activity. The luminal surface possessed numerous microvilli and long cytoplasmic cell processes which appeared to surround material in the lumen.
The innervation of AVAs was more dense than that of the arteries and consisted of adrenergic and peptidergic nerves. Noradrenaline- and neuropeptide Y-containing nerves were identified as the vasoconstrictor components of the nerve supply and occurred along arteries and formed dense plexuses around AVAs. Calcitonin gene-related peptide, substance P and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide are vasodilators and were present in single nerve fibres which accompanied arteries and AVAs along the length of the dermal laminae. In this study the distribution, density and innervation of AVAs in the equine foot are correlated with their proposed role in the development of acute laminitis. The release of vasoactive peptides from diseased organs remote from the foot may induce inappropriate prolonged dilatation of AVAs and thus contribute to the laminar ischaemia of acute laminitis.