Development of a versatile enzyme immunoassay for non-invasive assessment of glucocorticoid metabolites in a diversity of taxonomic species

Rebecca Watson, Coralie Munro, Katie L Edwards, Vicki Norton, Janine L Brown, Susan L Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Endocrinology is a useful tool for conservation biologists and animal managers, and measuring glucocorticoids can help understand biological mechanisms associated with species decline and animal welfare. The current study describes the development and optimization of a glucocorticoid enzyme immunoassay (EIA) to non-invasively assess adrenal activity in a variety of taxa. The antiserum (CJM006) was raised in rabbits to a corticosterone-3-CMO-BSA immunogen and used in a standard competitive EIA system. However, the EIA initially produced results with unacceptably high inter-assay variation, attributed to consistent patterns observed within the optical density of developing plates. To determine the cause of this variability, a number of factors were examined using synthetic corticosterone standard and endogenous faecal extract, including: plate type (Nunc MaxiSorp® II versus Immulon IB plates); the use of non-specific secondary antibody; type (artificial versus natural) and presence (light versus dark) of light during incubation; plate loading temperature (4°C versus room temperature); and substrate reagent temperature (4°C versus room temperature). Results indicated that variability was associated with plate location effects, which were not initially detected because control samples were always run in the same positions across plates. Light and temperature were the two major factors that affected EIA reliability. For this assay, the standard protocol required slight modification, with the optimal protocol using Nunc MaxiSorp® plates, room temperature substrate reagents and dark incubation conditions. Following optimization, this EIA was then validated biochemically for 38 species, through parallel displacement curves and interference assessment tests of faecal and urine samples. Additionally, biological validation was performed opportunistically in a subset of species, with use of this EIA demonstrating significant elevations in faecal glucocorticoid metabolites following potentially challenging events. In summary, this glucocorticoid EIA cross-reacts with excreted glucocorticoid metabolites across a wide range of taxa, including ungulates, primates, felids, birds, rodents and amphibians. We conclude that when used with optimal reagent and incubation conditions, this EIA will be useful for non-invasive monitoring of adrenal activity in a wide range of wildlife species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-24
Number of pages9
JournalGeneral And Comparative Endocrinology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2013


  • Amphibians
  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Primates
  • Rodentia


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