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J Anim Sci. 2009 Oct;87(10):3142-55. doi: 10.2527/jas.2008-1684. Epub 2009 Jul 2.

Effects of short-term heat stress on endophytic ergot alkaloid-induced alterations in rat hepatic gene expression.

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Division of Animal Science, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.


Exposure to ergot alkaloids in endophyte-infected fescue (E+) is associated with impaired animal productivity, especially during heat stress, which is commonly referred to as fescue toxicosis. To elucidate the pathogenesis of this condition, the effects of short-term heat stress (HS) on hepatic gene expression in rats exposed to endophytic ergot alkaloids were evaluated. Rats implanted with telemetric transmitters to continuously measure core temperature were fed an E+ diet and maintained under thermoneutral (TN) conditions (21 degrees C) for 5 d, followed by TN or 31 degrees C (HS) conditions for 3 d. Feed intake (FI) and BW were monitored daily. The E+ and HS-induced alterations in hepatic genes were evaluated using DNA microarrays and PCR analyses. Hepatic antioxidant enzyme activities, as well as the incidence of apoptosis, were determined. As expected, intake of E+ reduced FI and BW from pretreatment levels under TN conditions, with greater reductions during short-term HS. Genes involved in gluconeogenesis and apoptosis were upregulated, whereas genes associated with oxidative phosphorylation, xenobiotic metabolism, antioxidative mechanisms, immune function, cellular proliferation, and chaperone activity were all downregulated with short-term HS. Hepatocytic apoptosis was increased and antioxidant enzyme activity decreased in the livers of rats exposed to HS. The hypothesized, exacerbating effects of HS on the direct, endophytic toxin-related and indirect, reduced caloric intake-associated alterations in hepatic gene expression were clearly demonstrated in rats and may help to elucidate the pathogenesis of fescue toxicosis in various animal species.

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