Created at the VGL Distichiasis

Quick Summary

Distichiasis is a condition in which the eyelashes grow from an abnormal position on the edges of the eyelids. These misplaced lashes can contact the cornea (clear ‘window’ of the front of the eye), leading to irritation and corneal ulcers, which can impact vision.

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Phenotype: Distichiasis is an eye disorder characterized by eyelashes growing from an abnormal position. These aberrant lashes grow from small glands that line the edges of the eyelids and can affect one or both eyes. Due to contact with the cornea (clear ‘window’ of the front of the eye), these lashes can lead to ocular problems that may impact vision such as squinting, excessive tearing, and corneal ulcers, though some horses may show no signs.

Mode of Inheritance: Autosomal recessive with incomplete penetrance

Alleles: N = Normal, Dis = Distichiasis associated variant

Breeds appropriate for testing: Friesian

Explanation of Results:

  • Horses with N/N genotype will not have distichiasis and cannot transmit the distichiasis associated variant to their offspring.
  • Horses with N/Dis genotype are carriers for the distichiasis variant but will not show signs of disease. Horses with this genotype can transmit the disease variant to 50% of their offspring.
  • Horses with Dis/Dis genotype are homozygous for the distichiasis variant and may develop signs of distichiasis. These horses should be regularly examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist to look for signs of aberrant lashes or resulting damage. Horses with this genotype will transmit the distichiasis variant to all of their offspring.

Turnaround Time
At least 10 business days; may be delayed beyond 10 business days if sample requires additional testing, or a new sample is requested.

$45 one test per animal
$60 this test + one test from list below

$75 entire Friesian Health Panel (all 3 tests)

Sample Collection

Horse DNA tests are carried out using cells from the roots of a hair sample (roughly 20-30 hairs).

1. Grab about 10 hairs at the base.

2. Wrap the hairs around your finger and give it a quick pull.

3. Check the ends to make sure the pulled hairs have roots.

4. Repeat the process until you have collected about 20-30 hairs with intact roots.

5. You can choose different places on the mane or tail. NOTE: For foals, we recommend pulling all hairs from the tail only. 

6. Tape the hairs to the submission form and fold the form along the dotted line to protect the sample. Do not use ziploc bags as they can cause condensation that allows mold to grow on the hair.

Hairs with roots

7. Place the folded form containing the sample in a paper envelope and mail it to the laboratory.


Additional Details

Distichiasis is an ocular disorder characterized by the abnormal growth of eyelashes along the edges of the eyelids. These misplaced lashes may contact the cornea (the clear outer windshield of the eye responsible for focusing light that enters the eye), which can cause pain and disruption of the corneal surface. Distichia (aberrant lashes) grow from Meibomian glands, which are small glands that line the eyelid edges. Meibomian glands normally do not produce hair; their normal function is to produce a component of the tear film.

These aberrant lashes can cause a variety of clinical signs, including excessive tearing, squinting, corneal ulceration (disruption of the surface layer of cells of the cornea), or corneal inflammation and scarring. This can lead to chronic irritation and ocular pain, or if complications from corneal ulceration occur, damage to the eye may cause the horse to lose vision or necessitate removal of the eye. There are some individuals that have no signs accompanying the abnormal lash growth and thus this disorder may go undetected.

The genetic variant associated with distichiasis was recently discovered by an interdisciplinary team lead by researchers at the VGL. Researchers identified a 16kb deletion on the chromosome ECA13 (ECA13:g.178714_195130del), located in between the genes FAM20C and PDGFA, that was associated with the disease phenotype. It is hypothesized that this deletion likely impacts a regulatory region of the genome but the functional consequences of this deletion and the mechanisms by which it gives rise to distichiasis have not yet been elucidated.

Distichiasis is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait with incomplete penetrance. This means that 2 copies of the variant are required to cause disease, but that not all individuals that have 2 copies of the mutation will show the disease phenotype.

Horses who test homozygous for the associated variant (Dis/Dis) are recommended to have regular ocular exams performed by a veterinary ophthalmologist to determine if aberrant lashes are evident and monitor for other clinical sings of disease that may threaten vision.

The test is appropriate only for the Friesian breed. This DNA test can assist in mate selection to reduce the potential of producing an affected horse and can also identify which horses should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist for presence of disease.

This test can be ordered as a single test or as part of the Friesian Health panel, which also includes hydrocephalus and dwarfism, to determine if their breeding stock are carriers for any of these mutations or assist in confirming clinical diagnoses.