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You may have heard of mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Cows with BSE show symptoms such as lack of coordination, aggression, seizures, and tremors (shaking). Cows can get symptoms similar to BSE in another way: by eating locoweed. Locoweed, named for the Spanish word for "crazy," is a plant of the pea family that contains the toxin swainsonine.
Livestock (cattle, horses, sheep, goats) and wildlife (elk, deer, antelope) eat locoweed in the early spring and late fall. At these times, locoweed is green, while most other plants are brown. It takes two to three weeks before symptoms of poisoning appear. The toxin affects the nervous system and can cause animals to run in circles, drool, stagger and become aggressive. The animals also act depressed and lethargic (slow, tired). Chronic exposure to locoweed leaves animals weak, as they lose the ability to find and eat food. Some of the toxic effects can be reversed; if the animal is removed from the locoweed-infested area, some of the symptoms disappear. Some neurological damage, however, is permanent, as a "locoed" animal will behave unpredictably in the future.
Acute cases occur when an animal's diet is composed of 10-15% locoweed. Scientists do not know how low levels of locoweed consumption affect animals, although they theorize that the animals' immune and reproductive systems are adversely affected.
Other direct losses from abortions, birth defects, increased neonatal death, and increased susceptibility to other infectious diseases may also be high
Signs and Lesions of Poisoning
Dull dry hair coat
Eyes dull and staring
Irregular gait or some loss of muscular control
Some animals show extreme nervousness
Loss of sense of direction
Withdrawal from other animals
Some animals develop inability to eat or drink
Abortions are common; hydrops may occur in some cattle
Skeletal malformations may occur
Animal may become violent if stressed
Reduced libido in males and altered estrous behavior in females
Cessation of spermatogenesis and oogenesis
Recumbency and death may follow prolonged consumption of locoweed
Vacuolation of neurons, renal tubular epithelium, hepatocytes, etc.
Congestive heart failure when grazed at high elevations
Mycol Res. 2003 Aug;107(Pt 8):980-8. Related Articles, Links
Production of swainsonine by fungal endophytes of locoweed.
Braun K, Romero J, Liddell C, Creamer R.
Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology, and Weed Science, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003, USA.
Consumption of locoweeds, legumes endemic in arid western USA, has long been associated with locoism, a disease of ruminant animals. To explore the relationship between fungi associated with locoweed and locoweed toxicity, 11 locoweed populations from various sites in New Mexico were assessed for endophytic fungi. Endophytes were isolated from the leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of eight populations of the toxic locoweeds Astragalus mollissimus, Oxytropis lambertii, and O. sericea. Fungal cultures grew very slowly and sporadically produced subcylindrical conidia with very dark transverse septa. All cultured endophytes produced the alkaloid swainsonine, which causes locoism. Endophyte-infected locoweed populations produced swainsonine, and the swainsonine level of endophyte strains in vitro was highly correlated with the swainsonine level of their host plant populations. The rDNA ITS from mycelia from four endophyte isolates and beta-tubulin encoding regions from mycelia of 18 fungal endophyte isolates were amplified using PCR and the nucleic acid sequences were analyzed. The nucleic acid sequences of the beta-tubulin encoding regions were essentially identical among all the endophytes regardless of plant genus and locations
J Anim Sci. 2004 Jul;82(7):2169-74. Related Articles, Links
The toxicosis of Embellisia fungi from locoweed (Oxytropis lambertii) is similar to locoweed toxicosis in rats.
McLain-Romero J, Creamer R, Zepeda H, Strickland J, Bell G.
Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003, USA.
Locoweeds cause significant livestock poisoning and economic loss in the western United States. The toxicity of Embellisia sp. fungi isolated from locoweed was compared with locoweed toxicity using the rat as a model. Rats were fed diets containing locoweed, fungus and alfalfa, or alfalfa. Locoweed- and fungus-fed rats consumed swainsonine-containing food at approximately 1.3 mg x kg(-1) x d(-1), gained less weight (P = 0.001) and ate less than controls. Swainsonine is the principal agent responsible for inducing locoism in animals. The concentrations of alkaline phosphatase and aspartate aminotransferase enzymes were greater (P < 0.05) in serum of locoweed- and fungus-fed rats compared with control rats. Similar intracellular vacuolation was observed in renal, pancreatic, and hepatic tissues of rats that consumed either locoweed or fungus. Rats that ate locoweed or Embellisia fungi displayed indistinguishable toxicity symptoms. The Embellisia fungi from locoweed can induce toxicity without the plants. Locoism management strategies need to involve management of the Embellisia fungi.
J Nat Toxins. 1999 Feb;8(1):53-62. Related Articles, Links
Locoweeds: effects on reproduction in livestock.
Panter KE, James LF, Stegelmeier BL, Ralphs MH, Pfister JA.
Poisonous Plant Research Laboratory, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Logan, UT 84341, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org
Locoweeds (species of Oxytropis and Astragalus containing the toxin swainsonine) cause severe adverse effects on reproductive function in livestock. All aspects of reproduction can be affected: mating behavior and libido in males; estrus in females; abortion/embryonic loss of the fetus; and behavioral retardation of offspring. While much research has been done to describe and histologically characterize these effects, we have only begun to understand the magnitude of the problem, to define the mechanisms involved, or to develop strategies to prevent losses. Recent research has described the effects of locoweed ingestion in cycling cows and ewes. Briefly, feeding trials with locoweeds in cycling and pregnant cows have demonstrated ovarian dysfunction in a dose-dependent pattern, delayed estrus, extended estrous cycle length during the follicular and luteal phases, delayed conception (repeat breeders), and hydrops and abortion. Similar effects were observed in sheep. In rams, locoweed consumption altered breeding behavior, changed libido, and inhibited normal spermatogenesis. Neurological dysfunction also inhibited normal reproductive behavior, and some of these effects were permanent and progressive. In this article we briefly review the pathophysiological effects of locoweeds on reproduction.
Theriogenology. 1999 Oct 15;52(6):1055-66. Related Articles, Links
Serum luteinizing hormone, testosterone, and thyroxine and growth responses of ram lambs fed locoweed (Oxytropis sericea) and treated with vitamin E/selenium.
Richards JB, Hallford DM, Duff GC.
Department of Animal and Range Sciences, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces 88003, USA.
Sixteen ram lambs (5 m.o. old, 45 +/- 1.5 kg) received a control diet (50% concentrate, no locoweed, n = 4), locoweed (20% locoweed for 21 d, n = 4), MUSE (2 mL i.m. of MUSE containing 5 mg selenium and 50 mg vitamin E/mL, n = 4) on Days 21 and 35([Day 0 = first day of trial]), or locoweed + MUSE (n = 4). The rams were maintained in individual pens (3 x 9 m) with free access to feed, water, salt and shade. On Day 7 after initiating locoweed, serum alkaline phosphatase (AP) increased (P < 0.01), and serum thyroxine (T4) decreased (P < 0.01) in locoweed-fed rams. Effects on serum AP and T4 remained constant in rams during the 21 d of locoweed feeding. Treatment with MUSE did not influence (P > 0.10) AP or T4. Locoweed-fed rams had reduced (P < 0.05) intake and body weight for the 2-wk period after locoweed feeding ended. The MUSE regimen or diet had no effect on intake or body weight (P > 0.50). Neither locoweed nor MUSE affected serum LH before or after GnRH administration on Day 22 (P > 0.10). On Day 50, however, area under the LH curve (AUC) was 966 units in locoweed-fed rams and 1,373 units (+/- 154) in controls (P = 0.09). Serum testosterone (T) was reduced in locoweed-fed rams before and after (P < 0.05) GnRH on Day 22. On Day 50, the T AUC was numerically lower (P = 0.14) in locoweed-fed rams (1,252 units) than in controls (1,539 +/- 130 units). Conversely, MUSE treatment resulted in increased (P = 0.02) T AUC on Day 50 (1,148 and 1,643 +/- 130 units in control and MUSE-treated ram lambs, respectively). During the 6-wk period after locoweed feeding, serum immunoglobulin G averaged 14.0 and 18.6 (+/- 1.1) mg/mL in control and locoweed-fed rams (P < 0.01), respectively. Twenty percent dietary locoweed for 21 d exerts adverse effects on feed intake, growth, and reproduction in young ram lambs and MUSE was not effective in reversing these effects.
Vet Hum Toxicol. 1991 Jun;33(3):217-9. Related Articles, Links
Swainsonine-induced high mountain disease in calves.
James LF, Panter KE, Broquist HP, Hartley WJ.
USDA/ARS Poisonous Plant Research Laboratory, Logan, Utah 84333.
Swainsonine, an indolizidine alkaloid in the locoweeds (certain species of the Astragalus and Oxytropis genera), was fed to young Holstein bull calves in their milk at high elevation (3090 m), and the incidence of high mountain disease (HMD) was compared with locoweed-fed and control calves. Five of 5 calves fed swainsonine and 5 of 5 calves fed fresh Oxytropis sericea showed outward signs of HMD, which included edema under the jaws, throat area and brisket and gross and microscopic lesions of HMD and locoweed poisoning. Grossly there were HMD lesions, including congestion of the liver, right ventricular hypertrophy, and dilatation and excessive fluid in the thoracic and abdominal cavities. Microscopically, the severe centrilobular lesions in the liver, edema of the pulmonary artery, severe edema and/or fibrosis of the roof of the right atrium were suggestive of HMD. The mild to moderate neurovisceral cytoplasmic foamy vacuolation of selected tissues and cerebellar neuroaxonal dystrophy in all calves fed swainsonine and locoweed were indicative of locoweed poisoning. In control calves, 1 of 6 showed equally severe outward, gross, and microscopic lesions of HMD, but none had any lesions indicative of locoweed poisoning. The ratio of right ventricle to left ventricle wall weights were significantly higher (P = 0.033) for the swainsonine-fed calves (1.4) and the locoweed-fed calves (1.3) compared to the controls (0.9). Scores indicating the severity of HMD from observations prior to necropsy were significantly higher for the swainsonine and locoweed-fed calves compared to controls (P = 0.032).
J Anim Sci. 1996 Apr;74(4):827-33. Related Articles, Links
Effects of previous grazing treatment and consumption of locoweed on liver mineral concentrations in beef steers.
Galyean ML, Ralphs MH, Reif MN, Graham JD, Braselton WE Jr.
Clayton Livestock Research Center, Department of Animal and Range Sciences, New Mexico State University 88415-9501, USA.
Twelve Hereford steers (average BW = 231 kg) that had previously grazed native rangeland (Range) or irrigated winter wheat pasture (Wheat) were allowed to graze locoweed-infested rangeland from April 1 to June 9, 1994 (six steers/previous grazing treatment). Relative consumption level of locoweed and other forage classes was measured as observed bites per steer. Liver biopsy and whole blood samples were obtained from each steer before and after grazing. Liver samples were analyzed for several minerals by inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectroscopy, and whole blood samples were analyzed for Se. Liver concentrations of Ba (P < .001), Cd (P < .001), Ca (P < .01), Cr (P < .01), Ni (P < .001), Na (P < .01), and V (P < .001) were greater and concentrations of Mn (P < .09), P (P < .01), and K (P < .07) were less in Wheat than in Range steers. Liver concentrations of Fe, Mg, S, and Zn and whole blood Se concentrations did not differ (P > .10) between the two groups. Liver concentrations of Cr (P < .04) and Mn (P < .001) were less, and Fe concentrations were greater (P < .01), in samples taken after grazing than in samples taken before grazing of locoweed-infested range. Whole blood Se concentrations decreased (P < .01) from the beginning to the end of the grazing period, but this effect was not related (P > .15) to locoweed consumption. Changes in liver concentrations of minerals were compared relative to consumption levels of all forage classes in the locoweed-infested range. Liver concentrations of Cu decreased (r2 = .45; P < .02) as the percentage of bites consumed as locoweed increased, but concentrations after grazing locoweed-infested range were still within normal ranges. Changes in liver concentrations of other minerals were not related (P > .15) to consumption of locoweed. These data indicate that previous grazing history can have significant effects on liver mineral stores and that, under our conditions, consumption of locoweed by grazing beef steers altered liver Cu concentrations. Toxic effects of locoweed consumption would likely occur before Cu deficiency would be induced by grazing locoweed-infested range; hence, supplementation of Cu would seem unlikely to alter the course of locoweed toxicosis.