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J Vet Diagn Invest. 2012 Mar;24(2):319-27. doi: 10.1177/1040638711435407.

Toxicokinetics and pathology of plant-associated acute selenium toxicosis in steers.

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  • 1ARS/USDA Poisonous Plant Research Laboratory, Logan, UT 84321, USA. Zane.Davis@ars.usda.gov


Sixteen of approximately 500 yearling steers died of acute selenium (Se) toxicosis after grazing on a Se-contaminated range for only a few days. Field studies and chemical analyses identified the predominant toxic plant as western aster (Symphyotrichum ascendens, previously Aster ascendens), which contained over 4,000 ppm Se (dry weight). Several dead animals that were necropsied had acute severe myocardial necrosis characterized by edema and myocyte swelling, with hypereosinophilia, clumping, and coagulation of myocardial proteins. Whole blood from 36 surviving steers was collected and analyzed, and 10 steers with elevated Se concentrations were selected for close monitoring and clinical evaluations. Each steer was weighed, and serum, blood, liver, skeletal muscle, and hair were regularly collected after removal from the Se-contaminated range. One animal that died 18 days after exposure was necropsied and exhibited severe multifocal myocardial fibrosis with extensive hepatic congestion, degeneration, and hemosiderosis. At 180 days postexposure, 2 of the 10 steers were euthanized, and tissue samples were collected. Both steers had rare, small fibrotic foci in their hearts. The Se elimination half-lives from serum, whole blood, liver, and muscle of the recovering steers were 40.5 ± 8.2, 115.6 ± 25.1, 38.2 ± 5.0, and 98.5 ± 19.1 days, respectively. The Se concentration in hair reached a peak of 11.5 ± 5.3 ppm at 22 days postexposure. The findings indicate that cattle are sensitive to acute Se toxicosis caused by ingestion of Se-accumulator plants, with myocardial necrosis as the primary lesion. Some poisoned animals may develop congestive heart failure weeks after the toxic exposure, and in the current study, Se was slowly excreted requiring a relatively long withdrawal time.

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