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Perinatal lamb mortality: an assessment of gross, histological and immunohistochemical changes in the central nervous system

Authors: Kenyon PR, Roe WD, Thompson KG, Lashley VD
Publication: New Zealand Veterinary Journal, Volume 62, Issue 3, pp 160-166, May 2014
Publisher: Taylor and Francis


AIM: To compare the vascular and neuronal changes in the central nervous system (CNS) of lambs that died in the first 3 days after birth, from various causes, with control lambs subject to euthanasia.

METHODS: Dead lambs (n=65) were collected daily during the period 07 September 2010 to 26 September 2010 from a flock of 200 twin-lamb-bearing ewes. Age-matched lambs from the same flock were subject to euthanasia as a control group (n=39). Necropsies were conducted on all study lambs. The cause of death in lambs found dead was categorised as starvation-mismothering-exposure complex (SME), dystocia, or other, based on gross necropsy findings. Deaths were categorised as SME in lambs with necropsy lesions of pericardial, perirenal and mesenteric fat catabolism, an empty gastrointestinal tract and completely inflated lungs. Dystocia was diagnosed by the presence of a swollen tongue, injected sclera and subcutaneous oedema and haemorrhage around the head and neck or hind limbs. Deaths were categorised as other if an obvious cause of death could not be ascertained and if evidence of infection was identified. The CNS of each lamb necropsied was assessed grossly for haemorrhage, and using histopathology to determine vascular and neuronal changes. Immunohistochemistry was performed on selected cases (n=36) to confirm neuronal death.

RESULTS: Of the 65 lambs found dead, 16 (25%) had evidence of cerebral and spinal meningeal haemorrhage, whereas of the 39 clinically normal control lambs, all displayed gross evidence of cerebral and spinal meningeal haemorrhage. There was no evidence of parenchymal vacuolation, neuronal vacuolation or ischaemic neurons in any of the lamb brain sections including those that died with evidence of dystocia. There was no difference, within the regions examined, in mean vascular score between lambs categorised by cause of death (p>0.05). The overall mean vascular score for the brain stem was greater than the mid brain (p=0.02) and the cortex (p=0.005) but did not differ from either the spinal cord or cerebellum (p>0.3). The vascular score for the spinal cord was greater than the mid brain (p=0.01) and cortex (p=0.003). Lambs that died of dystocia had less immunoreactivity for microtubule associated protein 2 (MAP2) in the hilus/CA4 region of the hippocampus (p=0.02) and dentate gyrus of the hippocampus (p=0.006) than those that were subject to euthanasia.

CONCLUSIONS: Neither gross nor histological vascular changes in the CNS could be used to distinguish newborn lambs that had been subject to euthanasia from those that died with evidence of SME or dystocia, so meningeal haemorrhages in or on the brain and spinal cord of lambs that die in the neonatal period cannot be used to support a diagnosis of birth injury or dystocia. The CA4 region and the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus are useful regions for detecting hypoxic/ischaemic injury in lambs with evidence of dystocia. There was no evidence that hypoxia/ischaemia contributed to lambs dying of SME.

CLINICAL RELEVANCE: The results of this study suggest that vascular changes in the CNS of newborn lambs may be produced artefactually. Caution is warranted with respect to interpretation of these vascular changes.

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