Saturday, August 13, 2011


What is DSLD?  What is ESPA?  Why two names?
©Terry Barrall
Many years ago a pioneering veterinarian began a study of horses with visibly dropped, swollen, painful fetlock joints. The suspensory ligaments of these horses were severely compromised. They did not heal, but degenerated instead; some slowly and some virtually overnight. She named the condition Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis, or DSLD.

In 2006, Dr. Jaroslava Halper, MD PhD, a professor and research pathologist with the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia released a peer-reviewed publication about this equine disease. She determined that affected horses had a body-wide over-accumulation of a certain type of proteoglycan, causing widespread damage throughout the body of the horse. She felt it was important to rename the condition to reflect that it is far more than just a problem of the ligaments of the leg; rather a systemic disorder of connective tissue. Her name, Equine Systemic Proteoglycan Accumulation, or ESPA is still relatively new and not yet as well known as the old name, DSLD. Therefore, you will see both here, frequently shortened to DE.

While there is much yet to be learned, research continues into this devastating disease. There is no cure at this time. However, a veterinarian-led treatment trial, coordinated through the “DSLD-Equine” list on Yahoo Groups, has given many horses relief.

Originally felt to be a disease of Paso gaited horses, DE is now known to be found in many, or most, breeds of horses including purebreds, crossbreds, and mules.

Necropsy results show that DE progresses, and that the long-recognized sign of fallen fetlocks is most probably a late-stage symptom. Horses can be affected in tendons and ligaments of all legs, nuchal ligament, patella, skin and organ fascia, eyes, aorta, and other connective tissues throughout the body. Some horses have shown an iron overload.

Current research at the University of Georgia is concentrating on the biochemical aspects of the disease; and the mechanism(s) that regulate the cellular processes.

DE is believed to be a genetic disorder; it has been shown to pass to offspring with great regularity. For this reason, it is strongly advised to take all affected horses out of the breeding pool so the disease does not get passed on. Unfortunately, many affected animals of breeding age do not show visible symptoms of disease until later in life. Breeding animals can be screened via the Mero Diagnostic Protocol and recording form; however this can only show current condition. It is not predictive, and should be repeated annually for breeding stock.
This blog wishes to thank Terry Barrall for permission to reproduce copyright material, What is DSLD? What is ESPA?  Why two names? © 2010

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