Investigations were carried out on 8 specific pathogen-free cats (5 male and 3 female) from a colony experiencing "outbreaks" of progressive hind limb ataxia in 190 of 540 at-risk animals ranging from 3 months to 3 years old. These studies identified moderate to severe bilateral axonal degeneration within white matter regions of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spinal cord and in the white matter of the cerebral internal capsule and peduncle, in the roof of the fourth ventricle and inferior cerebellar peduncle, and in the external arcuate and pyramidal fibres of the medulla. There were varying degrees of accompanying microgliosis, astrocytosis, and capillary hyperplasia. Such a clinicopathologic syndrome, termed feline leukoencephalomyelopathy, has previously been described in cat colonies in Britain and New Zealand, although its etiology has not been determined. The degenerative nature of the lesions and their bilateral distribution suggest possible nutritional, metabolic, or toxic causes. Although these findings provide circumstantial evidence that the exclusive feeding of a gamma-irradiated diet of reduced vitamin A content is associated with the development of the neuronal lesions, further tissue micronutrient and antioxidant analysis will be required to support this hypothesis.
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