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Keywords:

  • glucocorticoids;
  • fecal hormones;
  • cortisol;
  • corticosterone;
  • adrenocortical activity;
  • ACTH

Abstract

Most studies published to date that used fecal glucocorticoid measurements to assess adrenocortical activity in primate (and many nonprimate) species applied a specific cortisol or corticosterone assay. However, since these native glucocorticoids are virtually absent in the feces of most vertebrates, including primates, the validity of this approach has recently been questioned. Therefore, the overall aim of the present study was to assess the validity of four enzymeimmunoassays (EIAs) using antibodies raised against cortisol, corticosterone, and reduced cortisol metabolites (two group-specific antibodies) for assessing adrenocortical activity using fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (GCM) measurements in selected primate species (marmoset, long-tailed macaque, Barbary macaque, chimpanzee, and gorilla). Using physiological stimulation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis by administering exogenous ACTH or anesthesia, we demonstrated that at least two assays detected the predicted increase in fecal GCM levels in response to treatment in each species. However, the magnitude of response varied between assays and species, and no one assay was applicable to all species. While the corticosterone assay generally was of only limited suitability for assessing glucocorticoid output, the specific cortisol assay was valuable for those species that (according to high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) analysis data) excreted clearly detectable amounts of authentic cortisol into the feces. In contrast, in species in which cortisol was virtually absent in the feces, group-specific assays provided a much stronger signal, and these assays also performed well in the other primate species tested (except the marmoset). Collectively, the data suggest that the reliability of a given fecal glucocorticoid assay in reflecting activity of the HPA axis in primates clearly depends on the species in question. Although to date there is no single assay system that can be used successfully across species, our data suggest that group-specific assays have a high potential for cross-species application. Nevertheless, regardless of which GC antibody is chosen, our study clearly reinforces the necessity of appropriately validating the respective assay system before it is used. Am. J. Primatol. 68:257–273, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.