Effects of pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction and Prascend (pergolide tablets) treatment on endocrine and immune function in horses

Domest Anim Endocrinol. 2021 Jan:74:106531. doi: 10.1016/j.domaniend.2020.106531. Epub 2020 Jul 29.


It remains unclear how pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) and pergolide treatment (Prascend [pergolide tablets]) affect endocrine and immune function in horses. To evaluate these effects, blood was collected regularly from 28 university-owned horses (10 Non-PPID, 9 PPID control [PC], and 9 PPID treatment [PT]) over approximately 15 mo. Pergolide treatment was initiated after Day 0 collections. Analyses included ACTH, insulin, total cortisol, free cortisol, complete blood counts, plasma myeloperoxidase, and cytokine/receptor gene expression in basal whole blood and in vitro stimulations (PMA/ionomycin, heat-inactivated Rhodococcus equi, and heat-inactivated Escherichia coli) of whole blood and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). The results were analyzed using a linear mixed model (SAS 9.4) with significance set at P < 0.05. Significant group (P = 0.0014) and group-by-time (P = 0.0004) effects were observed in resting ACTH such that PT horses differed from Non-PPID horses only at Day 0. PT horses had significantly lower changes in ACTH responses to thyrotropin-releasing hormone stimulation tests than PC horses at non-fall time points only, mid-late February 2018 (P = 0.016) and early April 2018 (P = 0.0172). When PT and PC horses did not differ, they were combined before comparison to Non-PPID horses. No significant group or group-by-time effects were seen in resting insulin, total cortisol, or free cortisol; however, significant time effects were observed in these measures. PPID horses had lower absolute lymphocyte (P = 0.028) and red blood cell (P = 0.0203) counts than Non-PPID horses. In unstimulated whole blood, PPID horses had increased IL-8 expression compared with Non-PPID horses (P = 0.0102). In addition, PPID horses had decreased interferon γ production from PBMCs after stimulation with R. equi (P = 0.0063) and E. coli (P = 0.0057) and showed increased transforming growth factor β expression after E. coli stimulation (P = 0.0399). The main limitations of this study were a limited sample size and an inability to truly randomize the PPID horses into treatment groups. Resting ACTH is likely the best choice for determining successful responses to pergolide. Neither PPID nor pergolide appears to influence insulin, total cortisol, and free cortisol. As measured, systemic immune function was altered in PPID horses, and it is likely that these horses are indeed at increased risk of opportunistic infection. Despite reducing ACTH, pergolide treatment did not appear to influence immune function.

Keywords: ACTH; Cortisol; Equine; Immune; PPID; Pergolide.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Veterinary
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Horse Diseases / blood
  • Horse Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Horses
  • Hypertrichosis / drug therapy
  • Hypertrichosis / etiology
  • Hypertrichosis / veterinary
  • Male
  • Pergolide / administration & dosage
  • Pergolide / therapeutic use*
  • Pituitary Diseases / complications
  • Pituitary Diseases / drug therapy
  • Pituitary Diseases / veterinary*
  • Pituitary Gland, Intermediate / metabolism*


  • Pergolide
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone