Ergot Alkaloids

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Photo of Ergot on rye.

Ergot Alkaloids

Ergot alkaloid mycotoxins which are produced by several species of fungi in the Claviceps genus. There are four main groups of ergot alkaloids: the clavines, the lysergic acids, the lysergic acid amides, and the ergopeptides.

Fungus That Produces Ergot

The ergot alkaloids are prouced by Claviceps purpurea, Claviceps paspalli and Claviceps fusiformis. It is mainly found on rye, wheat and barley. It forms a sclerotia on the ear of the grain. It is rare due to modern cleaning and stroage, which has decreased contamination in the food supply. The sclerotia formed on the grain heads is removed during the cleaning process.

Ergot Poisoning And History

Ergot poisoning is known in humans and animals. It can cause hallucinations, the feeling of itchy and burning skin, gangrene, loss of hands and feet, and even death. Ergotism is one of the oldest known toxic reactions to mycotoxins. In the Middle Ages, humans suffering from a disease called St. Anthony's fire, that is thought to have been due to ergot poisoning. Ergotamine is one of the building blocks of the psychoactive drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Today, ergot alkaloids are used medicinally for treatment of migraines, inducing child birth, and the control of post-partum bleeding.

Affect Of Ergot Alkaloids On Animals

As small as 0.1% ergot in the feed is noticeable when pigs are being weighed for fattening.  Higher amounts cause clinical effects. Ergot alkaloids have been shown to affect reproductive performance in animals. Reproductive problems and signs of vasoconstiriction of peripheral body parts are the most noticeable. There is increased cardiac and respiratory frequency and wasting. The eschemia from vasoconstriction is noticeable in gangrene in the tails, ears and hooves. Cinical signs include oxytocin-resistant failure to produce milk, small litters, premature farrowing, mum-mification of babies, unusual heat cycles, metritis (inflamed uterus) and mastitis (inflammed breast tissue or teats). The affect on milk produc-tion is caused by prolactin inhibition. A level of 0.3% sclerotia in the lactation feed is sufficient to cause significantly decreased milk production in 50% of sows . Newborn piglets of ergot affected pigs develop diarrhea within the first eight days. Some sows or gilts can show lameness, in particular lameness of the hind-quarters and often necrosis can develop on the tail, ears and hooves. Clinical signs are evident in a matter of weeks after exposure to ergot alkaloids in feed. The clinical signs disappear quickly when the ergot contaminated feed is removed. It takes 3-7 days for milk production to become normalized.

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