Use of principle component analysis to quantitatively score the equine metabolic syndrome phenotype in an Arabian horse population

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Equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), like human metabolic syndrome, comprises a collection of clinical signs related to obesity, insulin dysregulation and susceptibility to secondary inflammatory disease. Although the secondary conditions resulting from EMS can be life-threatening, diagnosis is not straightforward and often complicated by the presence of other concurrent conditions like pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID). In order to better characterize EMS, we sought to describe the variation within, and correlations between, typical physical and endocrine parameters for EMS. Utilizing an unsupervised statistical approach, we evaluated a population of Arabian horses using a physical examination including body measurements, as well as blood plasma insulin, leptin, ACTH, glucose, and lipid values. We investigated the relationships among these variables using principle component analysis (PCA), hierarchical clustering, and linear regression. Owner-assigned assessments of body condition were one full score (on a nine-point scale) lower than scores assigned by researchers, indicating differing perception of healthy equine body weight. Rotated PCA defined two factor scores explaining a total of 46.3% of variation within the dataset. Hierarchical clustering using these two factors revealed three groups corresponding well to traditional diagnostic categories of “Healthy”, “PPID-suspect”, and “EMS-suspect” based on the characteristics of each group. Proxies estimating up to 93.4% of the composite “EMS-suspect” and “PPID-suspect” scores were created using a reduced set of commonly used diagnostic variables, to facilitate application of these quantitative scores to horses of the Arabian breed in the field. Use of breed-specific, comprehensive physical and endo-crinological variables combined in a single quantitative score may improve detection of horses at-risk for developing EMS, particularly in those lacking severe clinical signs. Quantification of EMS without the use of predetermined reference ranges provides an advantageous approach for future studies utilizing genomic or metabolomics approaches to improve understanding of the etiology behind this troubling condition.




Lewis, S. L., Holl, H. M., Long, M. T., Mallicote, M. F., & Brooks, S. A. (2018). Use of principle component analysis to quantitatively score the equine metabolic syndrome phenotype in an Arabian horse population. PLoS ONE, 13(7).

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