Reasons for performing study: The suspensory apparatus of the distal phalanx (SADP) is functionally and clinically important.
Objectives: To investigate SADP form and function and the microanatomy of its insertion zone.
Study design: Descriptive gross and microanatomy.
Methods: The feet of 6 normal Standardbred horses were sectioned into blocks along the traditional perpendicular transverse axis and along functional axes of the SADP, decalcified and processed for staining with haematoxylin and eosin, Jones' periodic acid silver methenamine or Masson's trichrome stains.
Results: In traditional midline toe transverse plane sections SADP collagen bundles were irregular with an unstructured appearance. In sections made transversely along planes (70° and 30°) aligned with the long axis of the SADP, collagen bundles were arranged in linear rows. The linear bundles were continuous from their origin on parietal ridges of the distal phalanx through to the secondary epidermal lamellar basement membrane. At the parietal ridge interface the collagen bundles coalesced into smaller, strongly silver staining, linear structures that penetrated the cortical bone and merged with adjacent osteons. In proximal sagittal sections collagen bundles were also linear, angled at 70° to the ground surface. In distal sagittal sections collagen bundles were also arranged linearly but in a multi-angled, ‘spokes of a wheel’ arrangement, centred on the distal phalanx apex.
Conclusions: Sectioning along functional axes demonstrated the true suspensory nature of the SADP connecting the parietal surface to the lamellar hoof wall. SADP/distal phalanx insertions showed penetrating fibres extending through the chondral–apophyseal interface up to and between distal phalanx osteons. Lamellar measurements made from sections perpendicular to the dorsal aspect of the distal phalanx are underestimations but if made along the longer, functional midline 70° transverse plane would accurately reflect the suspensory function of the lamellae. Laminitis pathophysiology correctly viewed as SADP degradation should inform logical, future therapeutic strategies.