An ante-mortem diagnosis of equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) is presently based on clinical presentation, immunodiagnostics performed on serum and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), and ruling out other neurological disorders. Molecular techniques introduce a novel and promising approach for the detection of protozoal agents in CSF. Hypothesizing that real-time PCR (rtPCR) can be a useful complement to EPM diagnostics, 210 CSF samples from horses suspected of neurological disease with EPM included as a differential diagnosis were tested using rtPCR to detect Sarcocystis neurona DNA and immunodiagnostics targeting antibodies against the same pathogen, performed on serum and CSF samples. Molecular and immunological results were compared with respect to origin of the horse, time of the year, signalment, clinical signs and treatment history. Twenty-five horses tested positive in CSF for S. neurona by rtPCR only, while 30 horses had intrathecally-derived antibodies to S. neurona only (serum to CSF ratio ≤ 64 by indirect fluorescent antibody test - IFAT), and 13 horses tested rtPCR-positive in CSF with evidence of intrathecally-derived antibodies to S. neurona. Previous treatment for EPM was the only variable presenting statistical difference between the two testing modalities, highlighting that animals with history of anti-protozoal treatment were more likely to test positive solely in IFAT, while horses without treatment were more likely to test positive by rtPCR only. The results support the use of molecular diagnosis for EPM caused by S. neurona as a complement to immunodiagnostics. The use of rtPCR in CSF for the detection of S. neurona may improve the diagnostic work-up of neurologic disease suspected horses, especially in animals without previous anti-protozoal treatment.
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