Epilepsy is the most prevalent chronic neurological disorder found in dogs. There are several different types of epilepsy; our research is primarily focused on idiopathic (cause unknown) epilepsy (IE). Many different dog breeds suffer from IE, although the age of onset and the type and pattern of the seizures can differ between breeds.
We are conducting research to try to identify the variants in the DNA of a dog that might be associated with the development of IE, and are working towards developing tools to try to understand and prevent this disorder in dogs. To date we have used an approach called a genome-wide association study, or genome scan, to search for regions of the DNA that may be involved in IE, which we hope will help us to understand the underlying genetic causes of this condition. These studies are made possible by collecting cheek swab DNA samples from both affected and unaffected dogs.
We are currently collaborating with Linnaeus; the University of Helsinki in Finland; the University of Manchester in the UK; and our clinical colleagues in Neurology to enable us to collect the large sample sets that we require to conduct genetic studies of IE in individual breeds – these will typically comprise at least 100 IE cases and 100 unaffected (control) dogs.
Progress to date
To date, scientists in the Kennel Club Genetics Centre have conducted two genome-wide association studies (genome scans) of IE, in the Border Collie and Italian Spinone, to search for regions of the DNA that might be involved in IE, which will help us to understand its possible underlying causes in these two breeds. We are also participating in a collaboration with the University of Helsinki that focuses on IE and paroxysmal dyskinesia (an episodic movement disorder) in the Labrador Retriever.
We are planning to expand our research to include more breeds by working with the Kennel Club, breed societies and collaborators. Our studies so far have indicated that IE is likely a complex disease in most breeds; this means that there may be several genetic factors involved with the interplay of (as yet unidentified) environmental (non-genetic) influences. We hope that further research may also improve our understanding of the biology of the disease process underlying this condition.
As the number of breed-specific samples we require from both IE-affected and unaffected control dogs is large compared to that needed to study a Mendelian (single gene) condition in the dog, the breeds we study next will be decided upon by examining a range of evidence material from breed health and conservation plans; breed health surveys; and published epidemiological studies. It will be important to refer to these to confirm that the condition is common enough in the breed to enable us to collect sufficient samples to study.
We are very keen to recruit more dogs to take part in our Border Collie, Italian Spinone and Labrador Retriever studies; this involves taking a cheek swab sample from your dog and providing us with some information about them. Please click on the breed names for a link to the specific flyers for these studies; they have further details about which samples we would like to receive and the information we require to be submitted alongside the sample. We also have a general IE client information sheet that explains the study and its requirements in more detail.