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Inherited canine epilepsy is a major health problem in many breeds because of its high frequency and it potentially serious effects on pet ownership and breeder reputation. A preliminary examination of published data indicate that over 20 breeds have a serious health problem with canine epilepsy.

by George J. Brewer, MD
University of Michigan Medical School

In the AKC Molecular Genetics Conference that preceded this conference, experts discussed canine epilepsy form the standpoint of separating a diagnosis, separating inherited from non-inherited epilepsy, and the sub-types of epilepsies that may indicate different genetic types: One talk was from the perspective of a breeder/breed club (Standard Poodle) and what they are doing about the problem in their breed. The pertinent information from this session will be summarized.

There is likely to be a large amount of genetic heterogeneity in canine epilepsy. By that, it is meant that several different genes are involved. The strongest reason for believing that is the demonstration, by crude mapping techniques, of seven different regions of human chromosomes that contain epilepsy genes. Genetic heterogeneity is not to be confused with polygenic inheritance, in which more than one genetic defect contributes to the presence of the disease in a single patient or animal. In epilepsy, in any one patient, or animal, the disease is likely to be due to a defect in a single gene. But in the next patient, or animal, the epilepsy may be due to a defect in an entirely different gene.

The fact that each breed is a genetic isolate gives the dog world a great advantage over the human world, where the adonexture in the population mixes up all the genetic types, making it difficult to map and isolate the gene. It is expected that the cause of epilepsy in any particular breed will be due to a single genetic defect. This provides@great advantages because pedigrees collected within a breed will be pure for a single gene causation of epilepsy. This concept is no longer theory. It is borne out by VetGen's extensive experience with canine von Willebrand's disease (VWD), which is also, genetically heterogenous. We find that within a breed VWD is due to precisely the same mutation. Using pure canine pedigrees the epilepsy gene in any breed can be mapped as the dog map unfolds, and the gene identified and cloned. Developing a DNA test to allow breed- ers to reduce the disease gene frequency then becomes a simple,.task. In turn, such newly identified canine epilepsy disease genes become candidates for being one of the undiscovered human epilepsy genes. In this way, purebred dogs can power not only canine gene discovery, but human gene discovery.

In this session we will hear from experts on canine epilepsy who will help us understand the problems of diagnosis, better understand how inherited and non-inherited epilepsies can be separated, and who will tell us what is known about the sub-types of canine epilepsies that may guide us in beginning to identify different genetic types. We will also hear about the disease from a breeder's perspective, and what one group of determined people, and a committed breed club, are doing about the problem in their breed.

In summary, there is reason to be optimistic that within the next five years, DNA tests will be available for the inherited epilepsies in many breeds.

Biographical Profile

George Brewer, M.D. earned his Bachelors Degree with highest honors from Purdue University and his M.D. with honors from the University of Chicago, where he also pursued his postdoctoral research studies. His study, of genetics was continued with an NIH research fellowship at the University of Michigan, Department of Human Genetics. He currently serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Biochemical 'Genetics, is Associate Editor of the American Journal of Hematology, and Editor of Progress in Clinical and Biological Research. He is currently the Chairman, of the Interdepartmental Genetics Training Program at the University of Michigan and adjunct Professor of Veterinary Medicine, Small Animal Clinic Science Department at Michigan State, and is one of the founders of VetGen, the company, offering vWD DNA testing. Dr. Brewer is also a devoted owner of Labrador Retrievers.

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