Molybdenum-associated pituitary endocrinopathy in sheep treated with ammonium tetrathiomolybdate

J Comp Pathol. 2004 Jan;130(1):21-31. doi: 10.1016/s0021-9975(03)00065-3.


Ammonium tetrathiomolybdate (TTM) has hitherto been the treatment of choice for chronic copper poisoning in sheep, but the long-term consequences have not been evaluated. This study was based on a flock of copper-poisoned sheep which, after apparently successful treatment with TTM, became infertile and progressively unthrifty and eventually died 2-3 years later. The last five surviving animals were subjected to euthanasia and detailed study. Necropsy revealed marked wasting together with depletion of the pituitary and adrenal glands, testicular atrophy and ovarian cystic follicles. Histopathological examination revealed a non-inflammatory atrophy or degeneration of the adenohypophysis with loss of trophic cells; adrenocortical and testicular atrophy and ovarian degeneration. The regressive changes in the anterior lobe of the pituitary were confirmed by immunocytochemical labelling, which revealed a marked depletion of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) in the affected pituitaries by comparison with healthy controls. Excess molybdenum (Mo) retention (P<0.02) was identified by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICPMS) in the pituitaries and atomic absorption spectrometry (AAS) in the adrenals and brains of affected sheep. It was concluded that molybdenum introduced systemically as TTM is retained within the brain, pituitary and adrenal glands and is associated with a toxic endocrinopathy. It is postulated that Mo administered as thiomolybdate adversely affects the hypothalamo-adenohypophyseal system by interfering with trophic hormone release, leading to the cessation of reproductive activity and ultimately the failure of intermediary metabolism. Whether Mo exerts its effect centrally or directly on the pituitary was not established.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chelating Agents / adverse effects*
  • Copper / analysis
  • Copper / poisoning
  • Female
  • Male
  • Molybdenum / adverse effects*
  • Molybdenum / analysis
  • Ovary / drug effects
  • Ovary / pathology
  • Pituitary Diseases / chemically induced
  • Pituitary Diseases / pathology
  • Pituitary Diseases / veterinary*
  • Pituitary Gland, Anterior / drug effects*
  • Pituitary Gland, Anterior / metabolism
  • Pituitary Gland, Anterior / pathology
  • Pituitary Hormones, Anterior / metabolism
  • Poisoning / etiology
  • Poisoning / therapy
  • Poisoning / veterinary
  • Sheep Diseases / chemically induced
  • Sheep Diseases / pathology*
  • Sheep*
  • Testis / drug effects
  • Testis / pathology


  • Chelating Agents
  • Pituitary Hormones, Anterior
  • Copper
  • Molybdenum
  • tetrathiomolybdate