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J Vet Diagn Invest. 2010 Sep;22(5):802-5.

Phalaris arundinacea (reed canarygrass) grass staggers in beef cattle.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Phase 2, Room 119, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA.


Four adult mixed-breed beef cows from a cow-calf operation in West Virginia were referred to the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in March 2009 with weakness, ataxia, hind limb paresis progressing to lateral recumbency, and death within 2-3 days. Histologically, there was accumulation of light brown, granular pigment in neurons of the ventral gray horns of the spinal cord (more severe in thoracic and lumbar sections), brain stem, and pons, resulting in distortion and bulging of the cell body and displacement of the Nissl substance, suggestive of Phalaris sp. grass toxicosis. The most severely affected cow had accumulation of dark green-brown pigment in renal tubular epithelial cells. Reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) was identified in pastures, and the concentration of tryptamine alkaloids in new leaf blades was approximately 0.2% on a wet weight basis. These alkaloids are serotonergic receptor agonists, resulting in neurologic "staggers" in ruminants. Delayed onset times of up to 4-5 months have been reported in sheep after removal from Phalaris sp. pastures. Distribution of pigment in serotonergic tracts of the midbrain, brain stem, and spinal cord with Phalaris sp. toxicoses is distinct and differs from lipofuscin. Electron microscopy confirmed that the pigment was not lipofuscin. From these findings, a diagnosis of delayed P. arundinacea toxicosis was made. Over a 2-month period, 18 cows died with similar clinical signs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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