Leukoencephalomalacia in horses associated with immature corn consumption

ABSTRACT: Horse leukoencephalomalacia (ELEM) is a disease caused by the ingestion of mycotoxins (fumonisins) produced by fungi of the genus Fusarium that infect corn and/or its byproducts. This disease has been described by ingestion of mature corn with humidity above 15% at temperatures below 20°C. The aim of this paper was to report an outbreak of leukoencephalomalacia in horses fed with immature corn. Two horses out of three showed neurological signs approximately seven days after eating immature corn in its reproductive phase (R2, milky grains). Corn was harvested and administered directly to the animals, with no storage. Deaths occurred approximately 24 hours after the onset of clinical signs. Grossly, there were multifocal dark red to brown areas in the white matter of the telencephalon and hyppocampus and thalamus. Histologically, there was edema and hemorrhage in several areas of the telencephalon white matter, which corresponded to dark red to brown areas observed in the macroscopy. There was also foci of malacia with presence of reactive astrocytes with abundant eosinophilic cytoplasm and inflammatory cells. Diffuse capillary wall degeneration and endothelial cell swelling were also observed. Two ppm of fumonisin were detected by immunoaffinity column method (VICAM) in the immature corn sample. The water activity in this cereal, when the grain is still milky, is 0.98 and can predispose it to growth of mycotoxin-producing fungi. In the present case, fumonisin was found in milky grains in the beginning of the reproductive phase (R2), which suggested that even immature corn may be infected by Fusarium spp. and should not be administered to horses.