Seasonal changes in plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone and α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone in response to thyrotropin-releasing hormone in normal, aged horses

J Vet Intern Med. 2011 May-Jun;25(3):579-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-1676.2011.0712.x. Epub 2011 Apr 1.


Background: Results of diagnostic tests for equine pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), including endogenous ACTH concentration and the overnight dexamethasone suppression test (DST), are affected by season. New and potentially more sensitive diagnostic tests for equine PPID, such as thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH)-stimulated ACTH response, have been developed, but have had limited evaluation of seasonality.

Objective: Our purpose was to evaluate seasonal changes in plasma ACTH and alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH) responses to TRH administration.

Animals: Nine, healthy, aged horses with normal DST results.

Methods: Synthetic TRH (1 mg) was administered IV. Plasma ACTH and α-MSH concentrations were measured at 0, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 45, 60, and 180 minutes. Testing was performed in February, July, August, September, October, and November. Mean TRH-stimulated ACTH and α-MSH concentrations were compared across months and time by repeated measures analysis of variance. Significance was set at the P < .05 level.

Results: Concentrations of ACTH and α-MSH significantly increased after TRH administration. Endogenous and TRH-stimulated ACTH and α-MSH concentrations were significantly different across months with higher concentrations in the summer and fall compared with February.

Conclusions and clinical importance: Plasma ACTH and α-MSH responses to TRH administration experience seasonal variation, with TRH-stimulated ACTH and α-MSH concentrations increasing from summer through fall. These results support previous evidence of a seasonal influence on the equine pituitary-adrenal axis. More research is warranted with a larger number of horses to determine if seasonal reference ranges for TRH stimulation testing need to be defined.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood*
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / metabolism
  • Aging / blood
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Horses / blood
  • Horses / physiology*
  • Male
  • Reference Values
  • Seasons*
  • Thyrotropin-Releasing Hormone / pharmacology*
  • Time Factors
  • alpha-MSH / blood*
  • alpha-MSH / metabolism


  • alpha-MSH
  • Thyrotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone