Publications (short link)
Our group has been working with steroid hormones for over 30 years and we aim to extend analytical possibilities for this research. As information about faecal steroid metabolites was very limited, our special interest has been steroid metabolism and excretion in mammals, mainly domestic livestock (Palme et al., 1996). Starting with these infusion experiments (in the meantime, we have added further studies in cats, dogs, hares, rats, mice, primates, elephants and several bird species; for review, see Palme, 2019), we have focused on faecal glucocorticoid metabolites. Since we were not able to find authentic cortisol in faecal samples of ruminants and horses and only negligible amounts in pigs, specific cortisol immunoassays do not work in these species. In sheep, we characterized 14C-cortisol metabolites by HPLC/MS. This helped to establish an enzyme immunoassay for 11,17-dioxoandrostanes (11-oxoaetiocholanolone EIA) for a determination of faecal cortisol metabolites (Palme and Möstl, 1997). It was the first EIA worldwide to measure cortisol metabolites in faecal samples. This EIA provided the basis for a non-invasive evaluation of adrenocortical activity. The biological relevance of this non-invasive method has been proven in ruminants (cattle, sheep) and horses following stimulation (ACTH) or suppression (dexamethasone) of cortisol release by the adrenal cortex and transportation. In the meantime, we have developed and established a total of more than 15 different EIAs for other faecal cortisol or corticosterone metabolites. The biological relevance of these EIAs for faecal glucocorticoid metabolites in various species (including birds) has been proven (Möstl et al., 2005; Palme, 2005; Palme et al., 2005; Touma and Palme, 2005; Palme, 2012; 2019).
Thus, our successfully established and extensively validated non-invasive techniques to monitor stress hormone metabolites in faecal samples of various species are a useful tool in different research fields, such as ethology, field endocrinology, ecology, animal conservation and animal welfare, and can open new perspectives in biomedical and behavioural sciences (please find a list of our published papers ordered by species here). As we are interested in endocrine rhythms and responses to stress or disturbance, we are collaborating with research groups from all over the world (see here) We are also involved in animal welfare projects. Feel free to contact us if you are interested in a collaboration or if you have further questions. We also offer basic information about non-invasive measurement of steroid hormones (including our detailed laboratory protocol for extraction and EIA)
Other research fields:
Especially in ruminants high amounts of C19O3-steroids are excreted. Those metabolites can be measured as parameters of glucocorticoid production. However, some are known to act as pheromones and androgens in fish (11-ketotestosterone is an important androgen). We investigate formation and stability of these possible endocrine disruptors, and also evaluate their biological activity in other species, including humans.
As a potential long-time parameter of average glucocorticoid concentrations, the measurement of cortisol in hairs (corticosterone in feathers) has attracted much attention. As recent studies from others and our group (Keckeis et al., 2012) suggest also a local glucocorticoid production in the skin, we try to evaluate mechanisms of and possible influences on glucocorticoid (or their metabolites) production in skin appendages.
Members of our group (alphabetical order):
Dr. Sabine Macho-Maschler
Prof.Dr. Rupert Palme
Prof.Dr. Erich Möstl (retired, but still active and involved)