Background: High-serum γ-Glutamyl Transferase (GGT) activity has been associated with and thought to be a marker of maladaptation to training and possibly poor performance in racehorses, but the cause is unknown.
Objectives: To investigate possible metabolic and infectious causes for the high GGT syndrome.
Study design: Pilot case-control study and nested case-control study.
Methods: The case-control study in 2017 included 16 horses (8 cases and 8 controls with median [range] serum GGT 82 [74-148] and 22 [19-28] IU/L, respectively) from the same stable. In 2018, similar testing was performed in a nested case-control study that identified 27 case (serum GGT 50 ≥ IU/L)-control pairs from three stables for further testing. Serum liver chemistries, selenium measurements, viral PCR and metabolomics were performed.
Results: No differences were found in frequency of detection of viral RNA/DNA or copy numbers for equine hepacivirus (EqHV) and parvovirus-hepatitis (EqPV-H) between cases and controls. Mild increases in hepatocellular injury and cholestatic markers in case vs control horses suggested a degree of liver disease in a subset of cases. Metabolomic and individual bile acid testing showed differences in cases compared with controls, including increased abundance of pyroglutamic acid and taurine-conjugated bile acids, and reduced abundance of Vitamin B6. Selenium concentrations, although within or above the reference intervals, were also lower in case horses in both studies.
Main limitations: Observational study design did not allow us to make causal inferences.
Conclusions: We conclude that high GGT syndrome is likely a complex metabolic disorder and that viral hepatitis was not identified as a cause for this syndrome in this cohort of racehorses. Our results support a contribution of oxidative stress and cholestasis in its pathophysiology.
Keywords: Thoroughbred; high GGT syndrome; horse; metabolomics; racehorse; virus hepatitis.
© 2021 EVJ Ltd.