Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) are found mainly in plants of three families: boraginaceae, Compositae and Leguminosae. In North America, PA poisoning of livestock is caused primarily by consumption of Senecio and Crotalaria spp. The PA of Senecio spp. cause irreversible hepatic damage; toxicity signs are a consequence of impaired liver function. Crotalaria intoxication leads to pulmonary damage as a primary effect; hepatic effects are less prominent. Large species differences exist in susceptibility to PA toxicosis. Small herbivores such as sheep, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs and other herbivorous laboratory animals are highly resistant to PA toxicity, associated with a low rate of hepatic production of reactive metabolites (pyrroles) and(or) a high rate of activity of detoxifying enzymes. Diester PA common to Heliotropium and Echium spp. are metabolized in the ovine rumen to 1-methyl metabolites, whereas the macrocyclic ester PA of Senecio spp. are not. Exposure to PA results in high concentrations of liver Cu, reduced liver Zn, and abnormal Fe metabolism with hematopoiesis markedly impaired. Pyrrolizidine alkaloid toxicity alters vitamin A metabolism in rats, depressing plasma and liver levels of vitamin A. Synthetic antioxidants in the diet confer protective activity in laboratory animals (e.g., rats, mice) against PA toxicoses. The PA and their metabolites are secreted in the milk of lactating animals, but this probably does not represent a significant human health hazard.