Necropsy survey of metacarpal fusion in the horse

C. M. Les From the Veterinary Orthopedic Research Laboratory, Department of Anatomy, Physiology, and Cell Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine (Les, Stover), and Division of Statistics (Willits), University of California, Davis CA 95616-8732.

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S. M. Stover From the Veterinary Orthopedic Research Laboratory, Department of Anatomy, Physiology, and Cell Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine (Les, Stover), and Division of Statistics (Willits), University of California, Davis CA 95616-8732.

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N. H. Willits From the Veterinary Orthopedic Research Laboratory, Department of Anatomy, Physiology, and Cell Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine (Les, Stover), and Division of Statistics (Willits), University of California, Davis CA 95616-8732.

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SUMMARY

Paired metacarpi obtained at necropsy from 100 horses ranging in age from term fetus to 35 years were examined to estimate the prevalence and sites of metacarpal fusion. Metacarpal fusion was seen in 192 of 200 metacarpi, and 78% of all horses 2 years or older had 2 or more fusions. Fusion of the second metacarpal bone to the third metacarpal bone was significantly (P < 0.001) more common than was fusion of the fourth to the third metacarpal bone. Fusions appeared for the most part in pairs and were bilaterally symmetric. Rooney-Prickett type-A carpometacarpal joint configurations (in which there is no measurable articulation between the third carpal and second metacarpal bones) were rare in this population, and Rooney-Prickett type-B configurations (in which there is a measurable articulation between the third carpal and second metacarpal bones) were observed in 98.5% of metacarpi. Medial metacarpal fusion was positively correlated with age, occupation, and proportion of the proximal projection of the carpometacarpal distal joint surface that was taken by the second metacarpal bone. Lateral metacarpal fusion was positively correlated with age and the proportion of the proximal projection of the carpometacarpal distal joint surface taken by the fourth metacarpal bone.

Horses in performance careers (racing, race training, or show ring occupations) had an earlier development of the first 2 fusions than did horses in other or unknown occupations; development of the third and fourth fusions were not significantly different between occupation groups. The rate of metacarpal fusion per horse-year appeared to be at least 10 times higher than a clinically evident rate.

A variety of gross morphologic features was observed in the fusions from this sample, some of which were small, subtle, and possibly difficult to detect in vivo. It is hypothesized that many instances of metacarpal fusion may be a result of functional adaptation of the metacarpus to increased or changed loading conditions, rather than a response to isolated traumatic events.

SUMMARY

Paired metacarpi obtained at necropsy from 100 horses ranging in age from term fetus to 35 years were examined to estimate the prevalence and sites of metacarpal fusion. Metacarpal fusion was seen in 192 of 200 metacarpi, and 78% of all horses 2 years or older had 2 or more fusions. Fusion of the second metacarpal bone to the third metacarpal bone was significantly (P < 0.001) more common than was fusion of the fourth to the third metacarpal bone. Fusions appeared for the most part in pairs and were bilaterally symmetric. Rooney-Prickett type-A carpometacarpal joint configurations (in which there is no measurable articulation between the third carpal and second metacarpal bones) were rare in this population, and Rooney-Prickett type-B configurations (in which there is a measurable articulation between the third carpal and second metacarpal bones) were observed in 98.5% of metacarpi. Medial metacarpal fusion was positively correlated with age, occupation, and proportion of the proximal projection of the carpometacarpal distal joint surface that was taken by the second metacarpal bone. Lateral metacarpal fusion was positively correlated with age and the proportion of the proximal projection of the carpometacarpal distal joint surface taken by the fourth metacarpal bone.

Horses in performance careers (racing, race training, or show ring occupations) had an earlier development of the first 2 fusions than did horses in other or unknown occupations; development of the third and fourth fusions were not significantly different between occupation groups. The rate of metacarpal fusion per horse-year appeared to be at least 10 times higher than a clinically evident rate.

A variety of gross morphologic features was observed in the fusions from this sample, some of which were small, subtle, and possibly difficult to detect in vivo. It is hypothesized that many instances of metacarpal fusion may be a result of functional adaptation of the metacarpus to increased or changed loading conditions, rather than a response to isolated traumatic events.

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