For long time, the effects of mycotoxins on human and animal health have been studied and described on a toxin-by-toxin basis. There is little knowledge regarding feed contamination by multiple mycotoxins, and often their combination or interaction is not considered ​ (Viegas, et al., 2011)​. In animal production, the clinical signs of mycotoxicosis in the field can rarely been explained by the very low levels of mycotoxins present in the feed. However, the combination of mycotoxins can have a double effect as high as when those toxins are presented individually. Despite the magnitude of this challenge, the literature on the combination of toxins is still limited, especially with regards of trichothecenes ​(Pedrosa, 2010)​. The combination of several mycotoxins leads to the formation of different interactions that can be additive, synergistic or antagonistic (Greco, 2014).

 It should be noted that the type of interaction varies depending the animal species, sex, age, mycotoxin dosage, duration, nutritional status of the animals and the route of exposure to the mycotoxin ​ (Gruber, Jenkins, & Shatzmayr, 2019)​.

Some of the interactions between mycotoxins will be described below.


Additivity refers to the effect of the combination of mycotoxins being the same as the sum of the individual effect of each toxin. When the combination of mycotoxins presents the effect of the most toxic mycotoxin without the effect of the other mycotoxin, the term ‘less additive’ is used (Smith, 2016). Some examples of mycotoxin combinations that exhibit additivity include Aflatoxin B1+ Ochratoxin A, Aflatoxin B1+ Toxin T-2, Aflatoxin B1+ Fumonisin B1, Ohcratoxin A+ Toxin T-2, DON+Fumonisin B1, Moniliformin+Fumonisin, Moniliformin+ DON, Fumonisin B1+ Diacetoxyscirpenol and Fumonisin B1+ Toxin T-2 (Aihelen, 2021).


Antagonism refers to the combination of mycotoxins having a lesser effect than the sum of the individual effects of the toxins (Smith et al., 2016). In other words, the concept of antagonistic effect applies when the toxicity of one compound is used independently of the toxicity of the other compound (Ruiz, Macakova, Garcia, & Font, 2011). It has been reported that the combination of DON and zearalenone has an antagonistic effect on immune function in pigs. Similarly, the same antagonistic effect was reported in mice, but on liver health and metabolism (Gruber, Jenkins, & Shatzmayr, 2019). 


Synergism between mycotoxins is defined as the toxic effect exerted by the combination of various mycotoxins at certain concentrations that is greater than the sum of the effects of each mycotoxin when presented individually ​ (Gimeno & Lígia, 2011)​.

In other words, synergism is when the observed effect of the combination of mycotoxins is more than what is expected based on the effects of each mycotoxin. When one or more mycotoxins do not induce an effect while the combination does have a significant effect it is called potentiation, although this term is rarely used (Smith, 2016).

Synergism increases the toxic effects of mycotoxins, and some of the synergistic actions are presented by aflatoxins with ochratoxin or aflatoxins with T-2 toxin ​ (Greco, Franchi, Rico, Pardo, & Pose, 2014)​.

In Fusarium-derived mycotoxins, most interactions range from additive to synergistic, affecting mortality, animal growth, and feed intake. Several reports indicate synergistic interactions of deoxynivalenol with fusaric acid, DON with fumonisin B1, or even diacetoxyscirpenol and aflatoxins. ​ (Pedrosa, 2010)​

Some of the synergisms found in the literature and their effects on animal productivity are described in the following box: 

Combination of mycotoxins Described effect
Deoxynivalenol+ Aflatoxin B1 It has been described that the presence of both toxins leads to a greater severity of clinical signs in chickens, such as: decreased weight gain, reduced growth rate and anemia. In pigs, with the combination of these toxins, the animals present to a greater extend vomiting, rejection of feed and reduction of growth rate​ (Gimeno & Lígia, 2011)​​.
T-2 Toxin+ Aflatoxin B1 The synergy between aflatoxin and T2 toxin is of great importance in poultry as it has a higher prevalence and severity​ (Greco, Franchi, Rico, Pardo, & Pose, 2014)​. Studies conducted in chickens found that the effects of T-2 toxin and AFB1 are aggravated when both are present. Animals typically exhibit oral lesions, reduced live weight gain, decreased serological enzyme activity, decreased protein levels, among other symptoms​ (Gimeno & Lígia, 2011).
T-2 Toxin + Ochratoxin A The combination between these mycotoxins affects several production parameters in the animals. In chickens, the combined activity of both mycotoxins induces a reduction of growth rate and a reduction of protein levels. It also alters the nutritional effectiveness. In pigs, the combined contamination of these two mycotoxins significantly reduces live weight gain, as well as decreasing the relative weight of the liver​ (Gimeno & Lígia, 2011)​.
T-2 Toxin + Deoxynivalenol In chickens, the combined contamination of these mycotoxins substantially alters weight gain. In addition, oral lesions are reported with T-2 toxin, which are further increased with the inclusion of deoxynivalenol​ (Gimeno & Lígia, 2011)​.
Diacetoxyscirpenol +
ochratoxin A
In chickens, there is a notable increase in the relative weight of the liver, gizzard, and kidneys. In addition, serious problems of nephropathy and oral lesions are reported​ (Gimeno & Lígia, 2011)​.
Diacetoxyscirpenol + aflatoxin B1 In pigs, it is reported that the combination of both toxins causes an increase in the relative weight of the liver and spleen. It also decreases iron uptake, reduces serum nitrogen levels, and aggravates other pathological disorders​ (Gimeno & Lígia, 2011)​.
Fumonisin B1 +
Toxin T-2
In chickens, it is reported that the combination of these toxins generates mortalities up to 15%. It also causes an increase in the relative weight of the liver and kidneys; the levels of cholesterol also increase​ (Gimeno & Lígia, 2011)​.
Deoxynivalenol + Zearalenone In pigs, it is reported that the combination of these toxins causes rejection of feed, vomiting and bloody stools. In hens, the combined effect of both toxins causes a reduction in egg production and lesions in the mouth and crop​ (Gimeno & Lígia, 2011)​.
Fumonisin B1 + Aflatoxin B1 In turkeys, the combination of these toxins significantly reduces the levels of total protein, albumin and cholesterol in serum. In addition, it has been reported that the feed conversion rate altered significantly​ (Gimeno & Lígia, 2011)​.

The challenge of the interaction between mycotoxins in animal production

Nowadays, most of the studies on the combination of mycotoxins in animal nutrition are conducted in vitro using cellular models instead of animal models. There is a huge diversity of interactions that mostly have additive or synergistic effects, and given the complexity of the mycotoxin mixture, their combined toxicity is difficult to predict.

The toxic effects presented by cells vary according to: cell type, exposure time, mycotoxin concentration, tests used, and statistical models. With these mentioned factors, the mycotoxin combination undoubtedly represents a threat to human and animal health since the toxicity of each combination will be different for each contaminated feed; not to mention that mycotoxins when combined can generate a toxic effect, even if they are present at low concentrations (Smith et al., 2016).

Finally, there is a lack of studies that address topics such as exposure to sub-toxic concentrations of mycotoxins from multi-contaminated feed, as it is a more realistic scenario for food and feed consumption.