Primary photosensitization in equidae and ruminants in the Brazilian semi-arid caused by Froelichia humboldtiana (Amaranthaceae)

Photosensitization is common in the Brazilian semiarid, affecting mainly horses, but also donkeys, mules, sheep and cattle. The dermatitis affects mainly non pigmented skin, and the animals recover after being withdrawn from the pastures. To demonstrate the etiology of the disease, Froelichia humboldtiana (Roem. et Schult.) Seub., collected in the field one or two times a week and kept in the refrigerator for 1-4 days, was administered for 30 or more days as the only food ad libitum to 2 donkeys and one white sheep, and as the only forage ad libitum, to one white horse. No clinical signs were observed in those animals, and serum activities of aspartate-aminotransferase (AST), alanine-aminotransferase (AST), and gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT) were within normal ranges. In another experiment, one sheep was tied by a rope, during the day, in a pasture of exclusively F. humboldtiana for a 26 days period. Skin lesions characteristic of photosensitization appeared 4-5 days after the start of the experiment and became severe until day 26. After the withdrawal of the animal from the pasture on day 26 it fully recovered within 30 days. In another experiment, 4 sheep were tied by ropes in the same pasture, during the day, for a 29 days period. Another 4 control sheep were maintained in a neighboring pasture without F. humboldtiana. Skin lesions characteristic of photosensitization were observed after 11-25 days of F. humboldtiana grazing. Serum activities of AST and GGT, and serum levels of bilirubin were within normal ranges. At the end of the 29 days grazing F. humboldtiana, 2 sheep were euthanized, and 2 were withdrawn from the pastures. No gross or histologic liver lesions were observed on the 2 sheep euthanized; the other 2 sheep recovered within 17 and 20 days after the end of grazing. One mare and its foal grazed in the same pasture during 44 days. The mare that had a pigmented skin had no dermatitis, but the foal showed dermatitis on the white areas of the skin after 25 days of grazing. The two horses were withdrawn from the pastures after 44 days grazing, and the foal fully recovered within 15 days. These experiments indicate that F. humboldtiana causes primary photosensitization in domestic animals. The absence of lesions in animals ingesting the plant collected in the field and kept refrigerated suggests that F. humboldtiana lost toxicity after collection. The absence of lesions in the eyes of affected animal, which are characteristic of primary photosensitization caused by furocoumarins containing plants, suggests that F. humboldtiana contains a naphthodianthrone derivate, similar to those found in Fagopyrum esculentum and Hypericum perforatum which do not cause eye lesions.

Primary photosensitization; Froelichia humboldtiana; Amaranthaceae; equidae; ruminants; dermatitis


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