UK Researchers Study MicroRNAs Throughout Gestation in Mares

UK Researchers Study MicroRNAs Throughout Gestation in Mares

The Gluck Center research team is primarily studying miRNAs as potential biomarkers for placental health, specifically to diagnose placentitis.

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Shavahn Loux, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Kentucky (UK) Gluck Equine Research Center, is studying microRNAs (or miRNAs), a small nonprotein coding gene in animals, in pregnant mares.

She said the research into miRNAs began due to their potential to act as biomarkers (a measurable indicator of a biological state or condition). The body expresses them in response to disease, and they act as a measurable substance as concentrations change.

“If we could easily assess different aspects of placental health in the mare with a simple blood test, that would have phenomenal implications for the equine breeding industry,” Loux said.

The research is still in preliminary stages, with work being done to characterize miRNA expression throughout gestation in the mare in order to provide a baseline for further research. Essentially, current research is establishing “normal” miRNA concentrations in the pregnant mare before looking for abnormalities. However, through this initial research, Loux and colleagues have identified several miRNAs for future further research.

The research has comprised of collecting tissues and serum throughout gestation, then using next-generation sequencing to assess novel miRNAs that were previously unidentified.

“Next-generation sequencing has the capability of identifying every single RNA in the sample, whether we expect it to be there or not,” Loux said. “With previous technology, such as qPCR or microarray, you are limited by the fact that you can only look for the RNAs which you specify. There is no capacity for discovering the unknown.”

Loux said miRNAs hold potential as a novel way to diagnose various diseases in the horse. The Gluck Center research team is primarily studying them as potential biomarkers for placental health, specifically to diagnose placentitis, although they may prove useful for diagnosing other conditions, such as intra-uterine growth retardation, as well. Other groups studying miRNAs in the horse are evaluating their potential as biomarkers and treatment in joint pathologies such as osteochondrosis. Work is also being performed to evaluate the role of miRNAs in follicular development.

Hannah Forte is a communication intern with the UK Ag Equine Programs and Gluck Equine Research Center and undergraduate student majoring in community and leadership development at UK.


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