Ireland is Europe's largest producer of thoroughbreds, accounting for 42% of EU total output. The thoroughbred broodmare industry contributes 198.4 million euro to the Irish economy per annum. From 18000 broodmares at stud in 2003, only 11000 foals were produced in 2004. This poor reproductive performance stems largely from infection ascending into the uterus from the vagina and poor clearance of this infection. In humans, the normal flora of the tract and the mucociliary apparatus play major roles in prevention and clearance of infection in the reproductive tract. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) in women is a condition in which abnormal bacteria that colonize the reproductive tract during pregnancy produce enzymes which degrade mucus, breeching the cervical mucus barrier. Resulting ascending infection of the fetal membranes leads to preterm birth.
Ascending placentitis (AP) is an apparently analogous condition in broodmares, which causes major losses to the equine industry from abortion, birth of weak, septic foals and delayed return to breeding. As yet, the normal flora and the main polymeric constituents of the mucus of the mare reproductive tract, the mucin-glycoproteins (mucins), are uncharacterised. Mucinase production by equine reproductive pathogens has not been investigated. We will characterise mucin gene expression in the mare reproductive tract during the oestrus cycle and pregnancy. Expression of mucins in other species is affected by hormone status. Therefore, blood samples will be collected at the time of tissue sampling for hormone assay. The normal flora and pH of the mare's reproductive tract will be characterized and compared with the flora and pH observed during ascending placentitis. We will attempt to detect bacterial markers of ascending placentitis in the mare.
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