Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Endophyte-infected Fescue Reduces Fetal Growth

Researchers at Clemson University determined that exposure to ergot alkaloids during gestation reduces fetal growth in sheep. Tall fescue (Lolium arundinaceum), the primary cool season perennial grass in the Eastern United States, contains an endophyte which produces ergot alkaloids that cause vasoconstriction and could restrict the blood flow to the fetus in pregnant ewes.

The objective of the study was to examine fetal growth  during maternal exposure to ergot alkaloids during gestation. Pregnant Southdown ewes (n=16) were randomly assigned to one of two dietary treatments: 1) endophyte infected tall fescue seed (E+) and 2) endophyte-free tall fescue seed (E-).  The fescue seed was delivered daily in a total mixed ration. The seed compromised 38.5% of the ration.The fescue seed was fed to simlulate the fescue toxicosis syndrome during gestation (d 35 to parturition).

Birth weights of lambs were reduced by 37 percent for the E+ compared to E-. Organ and muscle weights were also lighter for E+ comapred to E-.  The researchers concluded that exposure to ergot alkaloids in utero reduces fetal growth and muscle development. Additional research is needed to determine mechanisms by which ergot alkaloids reduce fetal growth and the critical time periods of exposure in order to mitigate its effects on fetal growth. 

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