Six-month-old, male castrated, cross breed ox, (Bos taurus).An outbreak of neurological disease occurred in a herd of 99, 6 to 12-month-old, mixed breed, beef cattle. The herd was grazing pasture with a daily supplementary ration of 2 kg/head of sprouted barley. Fifty-seven animals were affected and eighteen animals were euthanized after becoming recumbent and unable to rise. The cattle had been fed hydroponically sprouted barley for seven months before the outbreak. Over the last few weeks of feeding, a green-blue downy mold had grown on the barley, its development had coincided with some unseasonably warm and humid spring weather. The mold did not have any effect on the appetite of the cattle which were being fed approximately 2 kg/head daily when adverse signs were first noticed. The first indication of toxicity was noticed by the owners when a 12-month-old cross-bred heifer showed signs of what was thought to be colic, based on her hunched posture and reluctance to walk. The next day another two cattle were noticed sick and three more the following day. At this stage the feeding of the sprouted barley was discontinued and the cattle were moved to another paddock. New cases continued to develop over the next 18 days. By six weeks, only a few of the affected cattle had not recovered, though all had lost considerable weight. A range of clinical signs was observed. Mildly sick cattle were instantly recognizable by the arching of their backs. Unless disturbed, most appeared to graze normally. Ataxia, knuckling of the hind fetlocks and hypermetria of hind limbs were also obvious in affected cattle. Some cattle developed progressively worsening ataxia with generalized muscle tremors. The cattle that were euthanized had progressed to posterior paralysis, recumbency and were often polypneic. One sternally recumbent animal appeared to be blind. Another was found in lateral recumbency displaying opisthotonos.

The mold on the barley sprouts was identified as Aspergillus clavatus (Agrifood Technology, Princes Hwy Werribee, Victoria 3030). A. clavatus is identifiable by its long, smooth conidiophore and huge club-shaped vesicle to which are attached uniseriate phialides.3 The mould was confirmed as A. clavatus and a specimen is held at the DPI, Plant Diseases Herbarium, Knoxfield Victoria.

Gross Description:  

There were no remarkable gross changes seen in the internal organs of the necropsied animals.

Histopathologic Description:

Significant histological abnormalities are limited to the central nervous system. Neuronal changes are apparent in the brain and spinal cord (spinal cord sections submitted for WSC). Affected neurons are swollen and rounded, completely chromatolytic with pale or acidophilic cytoplasm, and the few nuclei captured in section are peripheral, shrunken and often pressed against the cell membrane. Many nuclei are affected, especially the red nuclei, dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus, reticular nucleus of the medulla and alpha motor neurons among the lateral and medial motor neurons of the cervical and lumbar intumescences. Small gamma efferent neurons are not involved. There is no apparent cell loss or glial reaction. Within the brain and spinal cord, there is minor axonal swelling and myelin vacuolation with astrocytic swelling. Otherwise, the integrity of myelin and axons is preserved. The peripheral nervous system, including autonomic ganglia, peripheral nerves, and craniospinal nerve roots, shows no abnormality.

Morphologic Diagnosis:  

Brain and spinal cord: chromatolytic neuronal degeneration, severe multifocal acute, with mild edema of myelin.

Lab Results:  

Biochemical analysis of sera from the two recently recumbent cattle found mild to moderate elevations in GLDH (428 and 30 U/L; reference range < 20 U/L) and LDH (2318 and 2395 U/L; reference range 50-400 U/L). CK was mildly elevated in one animal, as was AST in the other.


Aspergillus clavatus

Contributor Comment:  

The epi-demiology, clinical signs, histological findings in the brain and spinal cord and mycological examination in this case3 are consistent with those previously described and caused by Aspergillus clavatus tremor-genic neurotoxicosis.5,6 A clavatus is present in soil and commonly isolated from cereal grains and their germinated seeds and other feedstuffs. It also occurs commonly in pigeon droppings.6 Tremorgenic syndromes have been experimentally reproduced in ruminants by feeding A clavatus pure cultures and A clavatus contaminated grains. A number of toxins have been isolated from A clavatus including cytochalasin E, tryptoquivaline, tryptoquivalone, patulin, but none have been tested in ruminants to determine responsibility for the tremorgenic syndrome. Toxic extracts from sorghum beer residue capable of reproducing the tremogenic syndrome in sheep dosed orally did not contain patulin, trypotquivalone or nortryptoquivalone so the identity of the toxin(s) remains undetermined.6 The case is submitted to the WSC with the kind permission of the surviving author, Dr C El-Hage, University of Melbourne.

JPC Diagnosis:  

Spinal cord, grey matter: Neuronal degeneration, multifocal, severe, with chromatolysis and vacuolar de-generation, cross breed ox, Bos taurus.

Conference Comment:  

The contributor provides a striking example of severe toxin-induced swelling and central chromatolysis of neuronal cell bodies (soma). In this case, the pathogenic process is most severe in the grey matter of the ventral horns. The ventral horn of the spinal cord contains nuclei for lower motor neurons that supply motor input to somatic muscle via axons in the white matter of the ventral funiculus. Typically, lesions in lower motor neurons produce flaccid paralysis, rather than the muscular tremors and hyperesthesia present in this case; however, as mentioned by the contributor, the pathogenic mechanisms of neuromycotoxicosis in Aspergillus clavatus have not yet been determined.

Some authors consider the mycotoxin patulin, produced by Aspergillus sp. and Penicillium sp, to be the major contributor to the neurotoxicity induced by A. clavatus.1,4 Patulin has been implicated in previously reported cases of neurotoxicity in animals. In the brain and spinal cord, patulin inhibits acetylcholinesterase and the Na+/K+-ATPase resulting in a buildup of the stimulatory neurotransmitter ace-tylcholine.1,4 Decreased breakdown of acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction results in convulsions, tremors, stiffness, impaired locomotion, and hyperesthesia, seen clinically in this case.4 Additionally, inhibition of the Na+/K+-ATPase may have devastating effects on the cell, including ionic depolarization of the cell membrane resulting in neuronal signal transduction deficiencies and disruption of the cell’s concentration gradient causing increased osmolarity and cellular swelling.4

Conference participants discussed the degenerative changes associated with chromatolysis in the central nervous system. Chromatolysis represents a change in the histomorphologic appearance of the soma due to the central or peripheral dispersal pattern of the Nissl substance.2 The chromatolyic pattern in this case is consistent with central chromatolysis. Central chromatolysis occurs in the large neurons of the brainstem, spinal motor neurons, and peripheral ganglia and is characterized by central clearance of Nissl granules and marked cellular swelling with pale, eosinophilic, homogenous, ground-glass appearance to the cytoplasm.2 Soma nuclei are often peripheralized and possess prominent nucleoli. Typically, central chromatolysis occurs secondary to axonal injury and represents a reparative response in the soma, incorporating increased free ribosomes for protein synthesis, lysosomes, and mitochondria. This anabolic response required for axon regeneration is referred to as the axon reaction Central chromatolysis occurs in a number of neurodegenerative diseases, including copper deficiency in sheep and goats, grass sickness in horses, avian encephalomyelitis virus in chickens, and feline dysautonomia, known as Key-Gaskell syndrome, in cats. Peripheral chromatolysis is generally associated with cell body shrinkage rather than swelling. It is characterized by Nissl granules surrounding the nucleus and is a relatively nonspecific degenerative lesion.2


1. Brotha CJ, Legg MJ, Truter M, Sulyok M. Multitoxin analysis of Aspergillus clavatus-infected feed samples implicated in two outbreaks of neuromycotoxicosis in South Africa. Ondersepoort J Vet Res. 2014; 12: doi:10.4102/ojvr.v81i1.848.
2. Cantile C, Youssef S. Nervous system. In: In: Maxie MG, ed.  Jubb Kennedy and Palmer's Pathology of Domestic Animals. Vol 1. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA:  Elsevier Saunders; 2016:252-255,327.
3. Hage C M; Lancaster M J: Mycotoxic nervous disease in cattle fed sprouted barley contaminated with Aspergillus clavatus. Aus Vet J. 2004; 82:639-641.
4. Loretti AP, Colodel EM, Driemeier D, et al. Neurological disorder in dairy cattle associated with consumption of beer residues contaminated with Aspergillus clavatus. J Vet Diagn Invest. 2003; 15:123-132.

5. Maxie MG, Youssef S. Nervous system. In: Jubb, Kennedy and Palmer’s Pathology of Domestic Animals. Maxie MG, ed. 5th ed, Edinburgh UK: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:369
6. McKenzie RA, Kelly MA, Shivas RG, et al. Aspergillus clavatus tremorgenic neurotoxicosis in cattle fed sprouted grains. Aus Vet J. 2004; 82:635-638.

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3-2. Spinal cord, ox.

3-1. Spinal cord, ox.

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