HPLC MS-MS Analysis Shows Measurement of Corticosterone in Egg Albumen Is Not a Valid Indicator of Chicken Welfare.

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Animals : an open access journal from MDPI, 2020, 10, (5)
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Assessment of animal welfare can include analysis of physiological parameters, as well as behavior and health. Levels of adrenocortical hormones such as cortisol (and corticosterone in chickens) have been relied on as indicators of stress. Elevations in those hormones have been said to be correlated with poor welfare, while levels in the normal range have been interpreted to mean that animals are in a good state of welfare. Procuring blood samples from animals for hormone measures can in itself be stressful and cause increases in the target hormones. To overcome this problem, indirect measures of cortisol and corticosterone have been developed. In chickens, corticosterone levels in egg albumen are said to be a useful indirect measure, and have been used in several recent studies as indicators of chicken welfare. All of the measures of chicken egg albumen corticosterone in welfare studies have used immunoassays, and have reported values ranging from about 0.5 to over 20 ng/g. Using these measures, egg albumen from chickens housed in conventional cages or free ranging has been said to have indistinguishable corticosterone levels. This has been used to support the conclusion that chickens kept in conventional cages are not experiencing stress and are in a good state of welfare. In this study, we have used high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) coupled with mass spectrometry (MS) to measure corticosterone in egg albumen. We found levels of corticosterone (median level about 50 pg/g) in egg albumen which were just above the limit of detection. By contrast, we found significant levels of progesterone and cortisol, hormones which would be expected to cross react with anti-corticosterone antibodies, and which therefore might explain the high reported levels of corticosterone using immunoassay. We conclude that because corticosterone levels in egg albumen are negligible, they cannot be used as an indicator of chicken welfare.
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