Non-invasive techniques to monitor stress hormones in small animals like mice offer several advantages and are highly demanded in laboratory as well as in field research. Since knowledge about the species-specific metabolism and excretion of glucocorticoids is essential to develop such a technique, we conducted radiometabolism studies in mice (Mus musculus f. domesticus, strain C57BL/6J). Each mouse was injected intraperitoneally with 740 kBq of 3H-labelled corticosterone and all voided urine and fecal samples were collected for five days. In a first experiment 16 animals (eight of each sex) received the injection at 9 a.m., while eight mice (four of each sex) were injected at 9 p.m. in a second experiment. In both experiments radioactive metabolites were recovered predominantly in the feces, although males excreted significantly higher proportions via the feces (about 73%) than females (about 53%). Peak radioactivity in the urine was detected within about 2h after injection, while in the feces peak concentrations were observed later (depending on the time of injection: about 10h postinjection in experiment 1 and about 4h postinjection in experiment 2, thus proving an effect of the time of day). The number and relative abundance of fecal [3H]corticosterone metabolites was determined by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). The HPLC separations revealed that corticosterone was extensively metabolized mainly to more polar substances. Regarding the types of metabolites formed, significant differences were found between males and females, but not between the experiments. Additionally, the immunoreactivity of these metabolites was assessed by screening the HPLC fractions with four enzyme immunoassays (EIA). However, only a newly established EIA for 5alpha-pregnane-3beta,11beta,21-triol-20-one (measuring corticosterone metabolites with a 5alpha-3beta,11beta-diol structure) detected several peaks of radioactive metabolites with high intensity in both sexes, while the other EIAs showed only minor immunoreactivity. Thus, our study for the first time provides substantial information about metabolism and excretion of corticosterone in urine and feces of mice and is the first demonstrating a significant impact of the animals' sex and the time of day. Based on these data it should be possible to monitor adrenocortical activity non-invasively in this species by measuring fecal corticosterone metabolites with the newly developed EIA. Since mice are extensively used in research world-wide, this could open new perspectives in various fields from ecology to behavioral endocrinology.
Copyright 2003 Elsevier Science (USA)