Circulating miR-23b-3p, miR-145-5p and miR-200b-3p are potential biomarkers to monitor acute pain associated with laminitis in horses.Animal. 2018 Feb; 12(2):366-375.A
Circulating microRNAs (miRNAs) are emerging as promising biomarkers for several disorders and related pain. In equine practice, acute laminitis is a common disease characterised by intense pain that severely compromises horse welfare. Recently, the Horse Grimace Scale (HGS), a facial expression-based pain coding system, was shown to be a valid welfare indicator to identify pain linked to acute laminitis. The present study aimed to: determine whether miRNAs can be used as biomarkers for acute pain in horses (Equus caballus) affected by laminitis; integrate miRNAs to their target genes and to categorise target genes for biological processes; gather additional evidence on concurrent validity of HGS by investigating how it correlates to miRNAs. Nine horses presenting acute laminitis with no prior treatment were recruited. As control group, nine healthy horses were further included in the experimental design. Samples were collected from horses with laminitis at admission before any treatment ('pre-treatment') and 7 days after routine laminitis treatment ('post-treatment'). The expression levels of nine circulating miRNAs, namely hsa-miR-532-3p, hsa-miR-219-5p, mmu-miR-134-5p, mmu-miR-124a-3p, hsa-miR-200b-3p, hsa-miR-146a-5p, hsa-miR-23b-3p, hsa-miR-145-5p and hsa-miR-181a-5p, were detected and assessed as potential biomarkers of pain by quantitative PCR using TaqMan® probes. The area under the receiver operating curve (AUC) was then used to evaluate the diagnostic performance of miRNAs. Molecular data were integrated with HGS scores assessed by one trained treatment and time point blind veterinarian. The comparative analysis demonstrated that the levels of miR-23b-3p (P=0.029), miR-145-5p (P=0.015) and miR-200b-3p (P=0.023) were significantly higher in pre-treatment and the AUCs were 0.854, 0.859 and 0.841, respectively. MiR-200b-3p decreased after routine laminitis treatment (P=0.043). Combining two miRNAs in a panel, namely miR-145-5p and miR-200b-3p, increased efficiency in distinguishing animals with acute pain from controls. In addition, deregulated miRNAs were positively correlated to HGS scores. Computational target prediction and functional enrichment identified common biological pathways between different miRNAs. In particular, the glutamatergic pathway was affected by all three miRNAs, suggesting a crucial role in the pathogenesis of pain. In conclusion, the dynamic expression of circulating miR-23b-3p, miR-145-5p and miR-200b-3p was detected in horses with acute laminitis and miRNAs can be considered potentially promising pain biomarkers. Further studies are needed in order to assess their relevancy in other painful conditions severely compromising horse welfare. An important implication would be the possibility to use them for the concurrent validation of non-invasive indicators of pain in horses.