Comparison of beta-ligands used in cattle production: structures, safety, and biological effects


Technologies that increase the efficiency and sustainability of food animal production to provide meat for a growing population are necessary and must be used in a manner consistent with good veterinary practices, approved labeled use, and environmental stewardship. Compounds that bind to beta-adrenergic receptors (β-AR), termed beta-adrenergic receptor ligands (β-ligands), are one such technology and have been in use globally for many years. Though all β-ligands share some similarities in structure and function, the significance of their structural and pharmacological differences is sometimes overlooked. Structural variations in these molecules can affect absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion as well as cause substantial differences in biological and metabolic effects. Several β-ligands are available for use specifically in cattle production. Ractopamine and zilpaterol are beta-adrenergic agonists approved to increase weight gain, feed efficiency, and carcass leanness in cattle. They both bind to and activate β1- and β2-AR. Lubabegron is a newly developed selective beta-adrenergic modulator with unique structural and functional features. Lubabegron displays antagonistic behavior at the β1- and β2-AR but agonistic behavior at the β3-AR. Lubabegron is approved for use in cattle to reduce ammonia emissions per unit of live or carcass weight. Additionally, lubabegron can withstand prolonged use as the β3-AR lacks structural features needed for desensitization. Due to these unique features of lubabegron, this new β-ligand provides an additional option in cattle production. The individual properties of each β-ligand should be considered when making risk management decisions, as unique properties result in varying human food safety profiles that can determine appropriate safe β-ligand use.


© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society of Animal Science. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Beta-Ligand, Cattle, Food Safety, Lubabegron, Ractopamine, Zilpaterol


Anna C Dilger, Bradley J Johnson, Paul Brent, Richard L Ellis, Comparison of beta-ligands used in cattle production: structures, safety, and biological effects, Journal of Animal Science, Volume 99, Issue 8, August 2021, skab094,