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PLoS One. 2018 May 15;13(5):e0197137. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0197137. eCollection 2018.

Marginal ancestral contributions to atrial fibrillation in the Standardbred racehorse: Comparison of cases and controls.

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Department of Animal Biosciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
The Semex Alliance, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.


Admissions of Standardbred racehorses (Std) to the Ontario Veterinary College Teaching Hospital (OVCTH) for treatment of atrial fibrillation (AF) began to increase in the early 1990s. The arrhythmia has been shown to have a modest heritability (h2 ≃ 0.15), with some stallions appearing as sires or sires of mares used in breeding (broodmares) of affected horses more frequently than others. The objective of this study was to determine the marginal genetic contributions of ancestors to cohorts of Std affected with AF and their contemporary control groups, and whether these ancestors contribute significantly more to the affected cohorts than to controls. All Std admitted to OVCTH for treatment of AF that were born between 1993 and 2007 comprised the affected case group (n = 168). Five randomly selected racing contemporaries for each Std admitted, assumed to not suffer from the arrhythmia, comprised the control group (n = 840). Three-year overlapping cohorts were created for case and control horses, determined according to year of birth, for a total of 26 cohorts. Marginal genetic contributions of ancestors to each cohort were determined and differences analyzed for statistical significance using a two-tailed paired t-test, with P ≤ 0.05 considered significant. The marginal contributions of 26 ancestors were significant, with 11 contributing significantly more to affected cohorts than the corresponding controls, and 15 contributing significantly more to controls than the corresponding affected cohorts. One stallion and one broodmare were very highly significant to affected cohorts at P ≤ 0.001, and nine stallions and three broodmares were very highly significant to control cohorts at P ≤ 0.001. Therefore, a number of stallions have statistically significant contributions to the genetics of Std affected with AF, while many others have statistically significant contributions to healthy Std. The arrhythmia appears to be particularly prevalent in the descendants of one sire family.

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