Added note, February 2006 :
Little was ever written about Progressive Axonopathy. I present this single article, not because it gives much detail about the disease, but because it gives some idea of the efforts that were made to deal with the problem. Strict adherence to the breeding recommendations by breeders resulted in a cessation of all new cases of PA after 1982. As a consequence all further research plans for Boxer PA had to be aborted. Much of Dr Griffiths’ research on neurological disease was thereafter conducted upon corresponding inherited disease conditions in laboratory mice and these studies were notably successful.
Full details of the PA control scheme may be found on the Breed Council website under Health and PA (http://www.boxerbreedcouncil.co.uk/).
Just about everything we breeders can do to rid the Boxer of the inherited disease of the nervous system known a Progressive Axonopathy, or PA, has now been done. With the help of the Breed Council pamphlet all the information presently known about PA has been circulated widely, not only in this country, but also abroad. A control scheme has been formulated and widely accepted. Lists of all known carriers have been made available through Clubs and Breed Council. The veterinary profession has been alerted so that all possible new cases may be referred to specified diagnostic clinics and, if positive diagnoses are made, pedigree information can be sent to Breed Council. The procedures are working and by these means alone the dangers of PA to the breed in this country should become thing of the past if breeders continue to breed prudently; but it will take several years before we can breathe easily. For the present, however, things look good; we only had four affected litters in 1982, all of which were detected in the first half of the year.
However successful the genetic means of PA control may prove, there are developments of another kind which may further help eradicate the disease. Dr Ian Griffiths has obtained a grant from the Wellcome Foundation to allow him to do research on PA. Substantial funds which will help this work have also been raised by Boxer breeders. The project has two objectives; one is to develop a diagnostic test for PA in the baby puppy (under three months), the other is to find out how the disease starts, hopefully then to detect the basic biochemical defect and develop a test which will allow carriers to be distinguished from non-carriers. The latter will require the examination of very young pups perhaps only a few days old.
The research work has already commenced and was made possible only by cooperation from Boxer breeders. The events that have taken place so far are as follows:
a). One litter from the mating of two carriers has been purposely bred for this research and a second litter from two other carriers is due in February.
b). The first bitch was taken up to Scotland and whelped by a Scottish breeder who subsequently reared the litter.
c). Dr Griffiths examined the pups when they were one month old and then every two weeks thereafter until they were three months old using clinical tests (shown on the PA film) and electrophysiological tests (described in the talks on PA). The results have proved very promising; three of the ten pups in the litter were recognized as having different nerve conduction times from the others very early on and all three have since developed clinical signs of PA. These pups are still being observed but the remainder of the litter have been declared normal and each of these has now been homed.
The next litter will be similarly handled but tests will begin at an earlier age and, if abnormal nerve conduction times are seen in any pups, PA will be suspected and they will be put down for detailed histological examination. A normal pup may also be similarly put down to show the normal situation in a Boxer of this age. Other normal pups will be homed as before.
For the continuation of the research two or three other PA litters will need to be bred. We Boxer breeders have to supply these if we want the answers to be obtained. We can, however, already conclude from the research on the first litter that one of the objectives has already been achieved. We now have an early diagnostic test for PA.
There is no doubt that this research will cause conflicting emotions among breeders. The need to produce and then put down PA pups may seem heartless but one hopes that the research may be considered justifiable if it provides the chance of developing a test for PA carriers. It should be emphasised that the tests carried out by Dr Griffiths cause no pain. The pups are given a light anaesthetic to keep them still while the electrophysiological tests are being carried out, just as for an X-ray examination, and from experience with the first litter, the pups suffer absolutely no after effects.
The PA saga has been brief. With careful breeding the disease as a serious problem could become a thing of the past within a few years; but, if we can provide a few PA litters for research and if the research is successful i producing a diagnostic test for the carrier, PA could soon be behind us forever. The outcome of both approaches however is pretty much in our own hands.