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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

August 10, 2011

Breakthrough in Canine Science Aids Understanding of Children’s Epilepsy

By David Alderton

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A remarkable discovery in a rare European breed of dog, the Lagotto Romagnolo, has paved the way for a new understanding of epilepsy in children. This came about as the result of the finding of a new gene, designated LG12, which causes this condition in these Italian, truffle-hunting dogs. This ancient breed was first created as retriever of waterfowl—and retains webbed toes even today—before its scenting skills were employed to detect these very valuable fungi that grow underground.

A team from the University of Helsinki and the Folkhälsan Research Center in Finland, led by Professor Hannes Lohi, discovered that the LG12 gene is very common in the Lagotto Romagnolo, being carried by one out of every three individuals. As a result of these studies, it is now possible to devise a genetic test that enables carriers of the gene to be identified.

This means breeders will be able to pair their dogs in such a way so as to significantly reduce the occurrence of this defective gene and, hopefully, eliminate it from their bloodlines in the future. In turn, the incidence of epilepsy in Lagotto Romagnolo puppies will be much lower as a result.

 

Working truffle dog with a haul of black truffles.
Working truffle dog with a haul of black truffles.
Different Forms of Epilepsy

Various types of epilepsy can afflict dogs. It is the most common disease of the canine nervous system, and different types of hereditary epilepsy exist in various breeds. Professor Lohi previously identified the first canine epilepsy gene, EPM2B, in the miniature dachshund.

The newly identified mutation in the LGI2 gene has particular significance, though, as it is the first idiopathic epilepsy gene in dogs. “Idiopathic” simply means there is no obvious cause or an explanation as to why the illness ceases as the puppies grow older.

Seizures result in tremor, trembling, shaking and wheezing in affected young Lagottos at around four weeks of age and then reoccur for one to two months before they cease completely. During this time, however, the seizure frequency varies significantly, even within the same litter. Also, the severity of the condition can vary from very mild at one extreme, possibly even going unnoticed, right through to causing the puppy to lose consciousness at times.

Between seizures, some dogs may experience ataxic episodes, as reflected by difficulties in coordinating their movements. The team tested for the LG12 mutation in about 40 different breeds and also in dogs that had a very early age of onset of epilepsy, but it was found to be present only in Lagottos.

The Significance of this Finding

The Lagotto Romagnolo’s epilepsy closely resembles human benign childhood epilepsy that is accompanied by remission. Epilepsy is also the most common neurological disease in children. It occurs in 0.5 percent of all 2- to 10-year-old children; during the ages when the development of the nerves in the brain is at its strongest. Childhood epilepsies are characterized by remission: The seizures set in and last for a time before disappearing completely as the child grows older.

This pattern matches that associated with the presence of LG12 in the Lagotto Romagnolo. The gene discovered by Professor Lohi and colleagues in this breed is therefore helping to provide fresh insights into the development of a child’s brain, in addition to the remission mechanisms that are associated with childhood epilepsies, thus paving the way for further medical research.

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