Ergot alkaloids produced by a fungal endophyte (Epichloë coenophiala; formerly Neotyphodium coenophialum) that infects tall fescue (Lolium arundinaceum) can induce persistent constriction of the vasculature in ruminants, hindering their capability to thermo-regulate core body temperature. There is evidence that isoflavones produced by legumes can relax the vasculature, which suggests that they could relieve ergot alkaloid-induced vasoconstriction and mitigate the vulnerability to severe heat stress in ruminants that graze tall fescue. To test if isoflavones can relieve alkaloid-induced vasoconstriction, two pen experiments were conducted with rumen-fistulated goats (Capra hircus) to determine with ultrasonograpy if isoflavones can (1) promote vascular compliance by countering alkaloid-induced vasoconstriction and (2) relieve already imposed alkaloid-induced vasoconstriction. Goats were fed ad libitum chopped orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata)–timothy (Phleum pratense) hay prior to conducting the experiments. Measures of carotid and interosseous luminal areas were obtained pre- (baseline) and post-ruminal infusions in both experiments with goats being fed the hay, and for blood flow rate in the carotid artery in Experiment 2. Responses to infusion treatments were evaluated as proportionate differences from baseline measures. Peak systolic velocity, pulsatility index, and heart rate were measured on the last day on treatment (DOT) in Experiment 1, and on all imaging sessions during Experiment 2. For Experiment 1, rumens were infused with ground toxic fescue seed and isoflavones in Phase A and with only the toxic seed in Phase B. The infusion treatments were switched between phases in Experiment 2, which employed a fescue seed extract having an ergot alkaloid composition equivalent to that of the ground seed used in Experiment 1. During Experiment 1, luminal areas of carotid and interosseous arteries in Phase A did not deviate (P > 0.1) from baselines over 1, 2, 3, and 4 DOT, but the areas of both declined linearly from baselines over 1, 2, 3, and 4 DOT in Phase B. By 6, 7, and 8 DOT in Experiment 2, luminal areas of the arteries and flow rate declined from baselines with infusions with the only seed extract in Phase A, but luminal areas and flow rate increased over 4, 5, and 6 DOT with the additional infusion of isoflavones. Peak systolic velocity and heart rate were not affected by treatment in either experiment, but were highest when infused with only ergot alkaloids in both experiments. Treatment with isoflavones was demonstrated to relax the carotid and interosseous arteries and reduce resistance to blood flow. Results indicate that isoflavones can relax persistent vasoconstriction in goats caused by consumption of ergot alkaloids, and mitigate the adverse effect that ergot alkaloids have on dry matter intake.

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Published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, v. 3, article 17, p. 1-10.

© 2016 Aiken, Flythe, Kagan, Ji and Bush.

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This research was funded by the USDA-Agricultural Research Service.