Twenty years ago a supplement of Equine Veterinary Journal was devoted to equine osteochondrosis (OC) and recognised the importance of this developmental disease to the equine industry. In the accompanying editorial several controversial issues were identified and a number of areas for further research were highlighted. Today, equine OC is still a major clinical problem, but the on-going research has resulted in much improved knowledge and understanding of this highly complicated disease.
There is still conflicting evidence on the prevalence of OC due to the dynamic character of the condition, widely varying definitions in the literature, and the range of joints affected. Nevertheless there is now convincing evidence that early vascular damage, leading to chondronecrosis, is the major mechanism of onset. The aetiological factors that determine whether a horse will develop clinical signs of OC remain obscure and the complex nature of OC and its multi-factorial character has been clearly demonstrated by genetic studies. These have shown a multitude of loci on a variety of chromosomes linked to osteochondrotic phenotypes, depending on the type of manifestation of OC, the joint involved and the breed. The controversy surrounding the possible key role of copper in the pathogenesis of OC in the early 1990s has evolved into a more limited contribution to repair thus making it just one of the many environmental factors that may have an effect on the occurrence of OC, but not a decisive one.
The semantic debate concerning the most appropriate nomenclature seems to have crystallised into a consensus on terminology at three levels: OC or osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) for the disturbance in the process of endochondral ossification, juvenile ostechondral conditions (JOCC) for all joint and growth plate related disorders, and developmental orthopaedic diseases (DOD) for the full range of skeletal conditions in young horses. Future progress in improved management of OC can be expected from more research on cellular and molecular processes and the influences that determine the process of endochondral ossification, the process of articular cartilage maturation, and from epidemiological studies quantifying the long-term effects of OC on health and performance.