Putting Ergot Alkaloids where they belong - in the history books

The fungi Claviceps purpurea produces high concentrations of mycotoxins, called ergot alkaloids. Ergot alkaloids are complex molecules with a wide range of harmful biological activities. The new BioTeZ Ergot Alkaloids clean-up columns help to detect and quantify the mycotoxins in crops to prevent the toxification of human, livestock and domestic animals.

Ergot poisoning (ergotism) in humans and domestic animals cause hallucinations, the feeling of itchy, burning skin and can cause effects on neurotransmission and circulation. Ergotism is one of the oldest known human diseases caused by mycotoxins and references to grain diseases have been found in various books of the Bible (850-550 BC). In 1597 scientists at the University of Marburg observed that signs of ergotism often appeared after blighted rye grains were consumed and that ergotism was promoted by cold, damp growing seasons.

In 1630 it was observed that feeding of blighted grain to animals produced an illness similar to human ergotism and by the end of the 18th century poisoning was demonstrated in animals. Finally, in 1764, ergot was recognized as a fungus by Otto von Munchhausen (Schiff, 2006). Until the late 20th century, human and livestock exposure to ergot alkaloids was primarily through ingestion of “ergots,” (Figure 1) which are spur-shaped or seed-like resting structures (sclerotia) of ergot fungi, the Claviceps species (Schardl, 2015).

Figure 1:  Sclerotia of the ergot fungus, Claviceps purpurea, in a barley head.

In 1927 more than 11.000 cases of ergotism were reported from Sarapol (Russia). Another incident happened in 1951 when 230 villagers of the popular French tourist town of Pont Saint-Esprit were sickened after ingesting contaminated goods from a local baker. The victims became violently ill with symptoms of severe gastrointestinal upset, dramatic reduction in body temperature, hallucinations and euphoria. Note that ergotamine contains the same dopamine substructure which is also found in psychoactive drugs like lysergic one of the building blocks of the psychoactive drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).

Although reports of ergotism in livestock vary from year-to-year according to rainfall and temperature, most cases occurs in the grain producing areas up today. An increase demand for biological produced products will cause a reduced use of fungicides which will lead to a higher need for ergot alkaloids monitoring in the next years. BioTeZ is already able to deliver a clean-up column (Figure 2) of food and feed extracts for the reliable identification and accurate quantification of the predominant ergot alkaloid early in the food chain to avoid ergotism.


Figure 2: BioTeZ Ergot Alkaloids* clean-up column for the HPLC and mass spectrometry analytic DATA SHEET

The extraction protocol of (Krska et al., 2008) is used in a modified version. Just briefly, a solid-phase extraction and clean-up method based on sodium-neutralized cation exchange to quantify 12 prioritised ergot alkaloids in rye flour and wheat germ oil by HPLC fluorescence analysis. The most abundant ergot alkaloids produced by fungus Claviceps purpurea comprise six pairs of epimeric ergot alkaloids (Köppen et al., 2013) 

In summary ergot alkaloids still play a crucial role in the food and feed industries up to date. The reduction of fungicides in biological natural products will increase the need to monitor the ergot alkaloids in the futures food chain. BioTeZ offers an efficient Ergot Alkaloids clean-up column for the HPLC and mass spectrometry analysis, for any question and remarks, please contact us Diese E-Mail-Adresse ist vor Spambots geschützt! Zur Anzeige muss JavaScript eingeschaltet sein! directly. Data Sheet Ergot Alkaloids clean-up column.
*Tested Ergot Alkaloids: Ergometrine, Ergosine, Ergotamine, Ergocornine, Ergocryptine, Ergocristine; Ergometrinine, Ergosinine, Ergotaminine, Ergocorninine, Ergocryptinine, Ergocristinine


Köppen, R., Rasenko, T, Merkel, S., Mönch, B., and Koch, M. (2013). Novel solid-phase extraction for epimer-specific quantitation of ergot alkaloids in rye flour and wheat germ oil. J. Agric. Food Chem. 61, 10699–10707.

Krska, R., Stubbings, G., Macarthur, R., and Crews, C. (2008). Simultaneous determination of six major ergot alkaloids and their epimers in cereals and foodstuffs by LC-MS-MS. Anal Bioanal Chem 391, 563–576.

Schardl, C.L. (2015). Introduction to the Toxins Special Issue on Ergot Alkaloids. Toxins (Basel) 7, 4232–4237.

Schiff, P.L. (2006). Ergot and its alkaloids. Am J Pharm Educ 70, 98.


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