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Non-invasive measurement of glucocorticoids: Advances and problems

Palme, Rupert
Physiology & behavior 2019 v.199 pp. 229-243
animal behavior, animals, corticosterone, cortisol, ecology, excretion, feces, medicine, metabolism, metabolites, stress response
Glucocorticoids (GCs; i.e. cortisol/corticosterone) are a central component of the stress response and thus their measurement is frequently used to evaluate the impact of stressful situations. Their metabolites from faeces of various animal species are more and more taken as a non-invasive aid to assess GC release and thus adrenocortical activity. The current literature review includes an extensive collection (1327 papers) and evaluation (see also Supplementary Tables) of the literature on faecal cortisol/corticosterone metabolite (FCM) analysis published to date. It aims at giving reference for researchers interested in implementing FCM analysis into their study or seeking to improve such methods by providing background knowledge on GC metabolism and excretion, conveying insights into methodological issues and stating caveats of FCM analysis and by highlighting prerequisites for and some examples of a successful application of such methods. Collecting faecal samples and analysing FCMs may appear simple and straightforward, but researchers have to select and apply methods correctly. They also need to be aware of the many pitfalls and potentially confounding factors and, last but not least, have to carefully interpret results. Applied properly, measurement of FCMs is a powerful non-invasive tool in a variety of research areas, such as (stress) biology, ethology, ecology, animal conservation and welfare, but also biomedicine.