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Toxicity of White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) and Chemical Extracts of White Snakeroot in Goats

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Poisonous Plant Research Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1150 East 1400 North, Logan, Utah 84341, United States
Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University, Private Bag 11222, Palmerston North, Manawatu 4442, New Zealand
§ University of Illinois at Urbana−Champaign, 1816 South Oak Street, Champaign, Illinois 61820, United States
*E-mail: [email protected]. Tel: 435-752-2941. Fax: 435-753-5681.
Cite this: J. Agric. Food Chem. 2015, 63, 7, 2092–2097
Publication Date (Web):January 31, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

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    White snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) is a sporadically toxic plant that causes trembles in livestock and milk sickness in humans that drink tainted milk. The putative toxin in white snakeroot is tremetone and possibly other benzofuran ketones, even though it has not been demonstrated in vivo. Toxic white snakeroot was dosed to goats, and they developed clinical signs of poisoning, exercise intolerance, significant increases in serum enzyme activities, and histological changes. Tremetone and the other benzofuran ketones were extracted with hexane; the extracts and residues were analyzed for tremetone and dosed to goats at tremetone and benzofuran ketone concentrations similar to the original plant material. However, none of the dosed goats developed the disease. The results demonstrate for the first time that white snakeroot is a potent myotoxin in goats and that other compound(s), which may be lost or modified during the extraction process, could be involved in causing trembles and milk sickness.

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    Histologic score of lesion severity and distribution in skeletal muscle of goats dosed with snakeroot, hexane extract, plant residue, and extract+residue. This material is available free of charge via the Internet at

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