Association of adrenocorticotrophin and cortisol concentrations with peripheral blood leukocyte cytokine gene expression in septic and nonseptic neonatal foals

J Vet Intern Med. 2012 May-Jun;26(3):654-61. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-1676.2012.00910.x. Epub 2012 Mar 23.


Background: The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) is influenced by the proinflammatory cytokines IL-6, IL-1β, and TNF-α in critically ill humans. Information about the association of cytokines with the HPA axis in neonatal foals is lacking.

Hypothesis/objectives: The objectives were to describe for hospitalized septic and nonseptic foals (1) temporal changes in blood concentrations of ACTH, and cortisol, and leukocyte cytokine gene expression, and (2) coassociation of these HPA axis hormones with blood leukocyte cytokine gene expression.

Animals: Hospitalized septic foals (N = 15) and hospitalized nonseptic foals (N = 11).

Methods: Blood samples, obtained from study foals at admission (T = 0), and 24 (T = 1), 48 (T = 2), 72 (T = 3), and 96 (T = 4) hours after admission, were processed to isolate RNA from leukocytes and to harvest plasma and serum for hormone assays. Plasma ACTH and serum cortisol concentrations were determined by radioimmunoassay. Leukocyte mRNA expression of IL-1β IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, and TNF-α was determined using RT-PCR.

Results: Cortisol concentrations were greater (P < .05) in foals at admission than at other time points. The expressions of IL-8 and IL-10 mRNA were lower (P < .05) at each time point in septic than in nonseptic foals. Among septic foals, ACTH was positively associated (P = .0026) with IL-6 mRNA expression.

Conclusions: Sepsis influences secretion of the HPA axis hormones and expression of cytokines in foals. A positive association with the HPA axis and IL-6 expression was detected. The clinical importance of these findings requires additional study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / immunology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Female
  • Horse Diseases / blood
  • Horse Diseases / immunology*
  • Horses
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hydrocortisone / immunology*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / immunology*
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Male
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / immunology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA, Messenger / chemistry
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction / veterinary
  • Sepsis / blood
  • Sepsis / immunology
  • Sepsis / veterinary*


  • Cytokines
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone