USA – New research suggests that 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), a naturally occurring amino acid, may offer a promising solution to combat ergot toxicosis in cattle, which is caused by a fungus called C. purpurea, most commonly found in rye and grasses. 

Preliminary trials have indicated that supplementing cattle diets with 5-HTP can improve feed intake and alleviate other symptoms associated with ingesting harmful ergot alkaloids.

For years, researchers have been exploring dopamine as a potential solution for ergot toxicosis in cattle, as explained by David Harmon, a professor of animal science at the University of Kentucky. 

However, recent studies led by Eriton Valente, a visiting scholar from Western Paraná State University in Brazil, have shed light on the role of serotonin, another crucial neurotransmitter affected by ergot toxicosis.

The team’s previous work demonstrated that ergot toxicosis, caused by consuming contaminated tall fescue seed, significantly reduces serotonin production in cattle. 

This discovery prompted the researchers to explore methods for replenishing serotonin levels. 5-HTP has emerged as the most promising candidate among various metabolic precursors to serotonin.

According to a study published in the March edition of the Journal of Animal Science, the research team conducted experiments where cattle suffering from ergot toxicosis were given intestinal infusions of 5-HTP. 

The results were remarkable: serotonin levels were restored, and dry matter intake increased to levels comparable to unaffected cattle. 

The surprise was that we could restore feed intake,” Harmon noted. “The fact that they came back and ate equal to the control animals was a big surprise.”

The University of Kentucky has applied for a patent for this potential treatment and plans to conduct further trials this summer. A critical question remains whether 5-HTP can be directly added to cattle feed and remain effective. 

It’s uncertain if 5-HTP can pass through the rumen without degradation, but Harmon believes existing technologies could protect the amino acid from ruminal breakdown, enabling its use as a treatment for ergot toxicosis.

Harmon also emphasized the economic viability of this treatment. The university was able to source an adequate supply of 5-HTP from health food stores at reasonable prices, suggesting it could be a cost-effective solution for cattle farmers.

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