Feeding yearling Angus bulls low-level ergot daily for 9 weeks decreased serum prolactin concentrations and had subtle effects on sperm end points.


Chohan MR(1), Munro BJ(1), Cowan VE(1), Anzar M(2), Blakley B(1), McKinnon J(3), Kastelic JP(4), Rivera-Acuña F(5), Singh J(6).
Author information:
(1)Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada.
(2)Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada; Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, Saskatoon Research Center, Saskatoon, SK, Canada.
(3)Department of Animal and Poultry Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada.
(4)Department of Production Animal Health, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada.
(5)Department of Agronomic and Veterinary Sciences, Technological Institute of Sonora, Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, Mexico.
(6)Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada. Electronic address: [Email]


Our objective was to determine whether feeding yearling bulls with the higher recommended Canadian limit of ergot alkaloids (∼3 mg/kg dry matter intake, DMI) would affect sperm characteristics and plasma prolactin concentrations. Aberdeen Angus bulls (12-13 mo old, n = 7/group) allocated by blocking for sperm concentration and body weight, were fed placebo or ergot alkaloids in gelatin capsules (60 μg/kg body weight daily, 3.4 mg/kg of DMI) for 9 wk. Semen samples were collected weekly by electroejaculation and examined with a computer assisted semen analyzer (CASA) and flow cytometry, for the intervals 5 wk before (Pre-exposure period), 9 wk during (Exposure period) and 9 wk after (Post-exposure period) treatment. Weekly plasma samples were analyzed for prolactin by radioimmunoassay. Plasma prolactin concentrations decreased markedly (mean ± SEM, 16.74 ± 3.70 in Exposure and 33.42 ± 3.08 ng/mL in Post-Exposure periods; P < 0.01) compared to Control (67.54 ± 21.47 and 42.59 ± 15.06 ng/mL). Treatment did not affect (P ≥ 0.17) body weight gain, sperm concentration, sperm count/ejaculate, motility or percent live sperm. Averaged over the exposure and post-exposure durations, the scrotal circumference was smaller (P = 0.02) by 2.7% in the Ergot group. Progressive motility remained unchanged from 59.92 ± 2.31% in Exposure to 59.61 ± 2.59% in Post-Exposure periods, compared to marked increase in Control (61.42 ± 1.60% to 67.52 ± 1.47%; P = 0.02). Straight-line sperm velocity decreased (-3.15 ± 1.53 μm/s) from exposure to post-exposure periods in Ergot group (P = 0.04) versus an increase (2.96 ± 2.17 μm/s) in Control. Midpiece defects decreased from Exposure to Post-exposure periods in Control group but remained unchanged in Ergot group (trt∗age, P < 0.01). Ergot feeding resulted in a smaller proportion of sperm with medium mitochondrial potential (Ergot: 22.65 ± 0.98%, Control: 24.35 ± 1.05%, P = 0.04). In conclusion, feeding ergot at Canadian permissible limit for 9-wk resulted in a 4-fold decrease in plasma prolactin concentrations. Semen end points were not significantly affected, although there were subtle effects on progressive motility, midpiece defects and mitochondrial membrane potential. Clinical relevance of observed changes requires further evaluation. Results supported our hypothesis that prolonged low-level ergot will adversely affect plasma prolactin. However, semen parameters were partially affected, supporting similar work on fescue toxicosis.