Background: The nutrition and health of horses is closely tied to their gastrointestinal microflora. Gut bacteria break down plant structural carbohydrates and produce volatile fatty acids, which are a major source of energy for horses. Bacterial communities are also essential for maintaining gut homeostasis and have been hypothesized to contribute to various diseases including laminitis. We performed pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA bacterial genes isolated from fecal material to characterize hindgut bacterial communities in healthy horses and those with chronic laminitis.Results: Fecal samples were collected from 10 normal horses and 8 horses with chronic laminitis. Genomic DNA was extracted and the V4-V5 segment of the 16S rRNA gene was PCR amplified and sequenced on the 454 platform generating a mean of 2,425 reads per sample after quality trimming. The bacterial communities were dominated by Firmicutes (69.21% control, 56.72% laminitis) and Verrucomicrobia (18.13% control, 27.63% laminitis), followed by Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria, and Spirochaetes. We observed more OTUs per individual in the laminitis group than the control group (419.6 and 355.2, respectively, P = 0.019) along with a difference in the abundance of two unassigned Clostridiales genera (P = 0.03 and P = 0.01). The most abundant bacteria were Streptococcus spp., Clostridium spp., and Treponema spp.; along with unassigned genera from Subdivision 5 of Verrucomicrobia, Ruminococcaceae, and Clostridiaceae, which together constituted ~ 80% of all OTUs. There was a high level of individual variation across all taxonomic ranks.Conclusions: Our exploration of the equine fecal microflora revealed higher bacterial diversity in horses with chronic laminitis and identification of two Clostridiales genera that differed in abundance from control horses. There was large individual variation in bacterial communities that was not explained in our study. The core hindgut microflora was dominated by Streptococcus spp., several cellulytic genera, and a large proportion of uncharacterized OTUs that warrant further investigation regarding their function. Our data provide a foundation for future investigations of hindgut bacterial factors that may influence the development and progression of chronic laminitis.
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