Reasons for performing study: Equine melanomas occur most commonly in grey horses at age 5 years or more. Generally, benign and malignant melanomas are distinguished by microscopy, but a more distinct classification would be helpful.
Objectives: The objectives of this study were to gain further evidence concerning the occurrence of melanotic tumours, and to evaluate the impact of heredity on melanoma development.
Methods: A clinical study was conducted on a defined population of 296 grey horses of Lipizzaner breed. Individuals were classified according to theirstage of disease using a 0–5 scale. Heritability was estimated on a sample of 296 grey horses with pedigrees traced back as far as 32 generations.
Results: Of the 296 horses, dermal melanomas were present in 148 horses (50%), 68 of which were more than age 15 years; 51 of these were melanoma-bearing. In 75.6% of cases, melanotic tumours were detected underneath the tail. Although melanoma-bearing grey horses were encountered up to stage 4, none of the affected individuals suffered any severe clinical effect or was handicapped in performance. Statistical analysis revealed highly significant effects of stud and age (P<0.0001), explaining 28% of the total variability.
Conclusions: In contrast to melanomas in solid-coloured horses characterised by early metastases, melanomas in grey horses showed less malignancy. Affected individuals often had encapsulated nodules or structures similar to human blue nevi. Grey horse-specific genetic factors inhibiting metastatic processes may be responsible for this phenomenon.
Potential clinical relevance: Although the obtained heritability estimate of 0.36 with a standard error of 0.11 indicates a strong genetic impact on the development of melanoma in ageing grey horses, a possible influence of the genes with large effects was also suggested. Therefore, further analysis is required of melanoma development in the ageing grey horse.