Four primary mycotoxicosis have been reported in livestock caused by fungal infections of grasses or cereals by members of the Clavicipitaceae family. Ergotism (generally associated with grasses, rye, triticale and other grains) and fescue toxicosis (associated with tall fescue grass, Festuca arundinacea) are both caused by ergot alkaloids, and referred to as 'ergot alkaloid intoxication'. Ryegrass staggers (associated with perennial ryegrass Lolium perenne) is due to intoxication with an indole-diperpene, Lolitrem B, and metabolites. Fescue-associated oedema, recently described in Australia, may be associated with a pyrrolizidine alkaloid, N-acetyl norloline. Ergotism, caused by the fungus Claviceps purpurea, is visible and infects the outside of the plant seed. Fescue toxicosis and ryegrass staggers are caused by Neotyphodium coenophalium and N. lolii, respectively. Fescue-associated oedema has been associated with tall fescue varieties infected with a specific strain of N. coenophialum (AR542, Max P or Max Q). The name Neotyphodium refers to asexual derivatives of Epichloë spp., which have collectively been termed the epichloë fungi. These fungi exist symbiotically within the grass and are invisible to the naked eye. The primary toxicological effect of ergot alkaloid involves vasoconstriction and/or hypoprolactinaemia. Ingestion of ergot alkaloid by livestock can cause a range of effects, including poor weight gain, reduced fertility, hyperthermia, convulsions, gangrene of the extremities, and death. To date there are no published reports, either internationally or nationally, reporting ergot alkaloid intoxication specifically associated with perennial ryegrass endophytes. However, unpublished reports from the Irish Equine Centre have identified a potential emerging problem of ergot alkaloid intoxication with respect to equines and bovines, on primarily perennial ryegrass-based diets. Ergovaline has been isolated in varying concentrations in the herbage of a small number of equine and bovine farms where poor animal health and performance had been reported. Additionally, in some circumstances changes to the diet, where animals were fed primarily herbage, were sufficient to reverse adverse effects. Pending additional information, these results suggest that Irish farm advisors and veterinarians should be aware of the potential adverse role on animal health and performance of ergot alkaloids from perennial ryegrass infected with endophytic fungi.
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