Noninvasive measurement of steroid hormones in zebrafish holding-water

Zebrafish. 2013 Mar;10(1):110-5. doi: 10.1089/zeb.2012.0792. Epub 2013 Feb 27.


Zebrafish (Danio rerio) has recently emerged as a new animal model in neuroendocrinology and behavior (e.g., stress physiology and ecotoxicology studies). In these areas, the concentrations of steroid hormones in the blood are often used to study the endocrinological status of individuals. However, due to the small body size of zebrafish, blood sampling is difficult to perform and the amount of plasma obtained per sample for assaying hormones is very small (ca. 1-5 μL), and therefore most studies have been using whole-body hormone concentrations, which implies sacrificing the individuals and hampers sequential sampling of the same individual. Here a noninvasive method to assay steroid hormones from zebrafish holding-water, based on the fact that steroids are released into the fish holding-water through the gills by passive diffusion, is validated. Cortisol and the androgen 11-ketotestosterone (KT) were measured in water samples and compared to plasma levels in the same individuals. Cortisol released to holding-water correlates positively with plasma concentrations, but there was a lack of correlation between KT water and circulating levels. However, KT levels showed a highly significant sex difference that can be used to noninvasively sex individuals. An ACTH challenge test demonstrated that an induced increase in circulating cortisol concentration can be reliably detected in holding-water levels, hence attesting the responsiveness of holding-water levels to fluctuations in circulating levels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis*
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques / methods*
  • Male
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Testosterone / analogs & derivatives*
  • Testosterone / analysis
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Water / analysis*
  • Zebrafish / physiology*


  • Water
  • Testosterone
  • 11-ketotestosterone
  • Hydrocortisone