Quantification of natural and synthetic glucocorticoids in calf urine following different growth-promoting prednisolone treatments

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Over the last few years, low levels of prednisolone have been reported in several cattle urine samples by a number of laboratories within the EU at an average concentration of 2.0 ng mL−1. The occurrence of prednisolone residues together with increased levels of hydrocortisone and cortisone in urine and tissue samples of untreated animals seems to demonstrate that traces of this steroid can be produced endogenously during stressful situations. Therefore, the endogenous origin of prednisolone makes difficult to correlate positive samples to a potential illicit treatment. An experimental study was developed to investigate the presence of natural and synthetic glucocorticoids and to evaluate levels of excreted prednisolone following growth-promoting treatments. Urine samples from calves undergone oral treatment with prednisolone, alone and in association with dexamethasone, were analyzed by a LC–MS/MS method, validated according to the Commission Decision 2002/657/EC. We also investigated if urinary free 6β-hydroxyhydrocortisone/hydrocortisone ratio could be a reliable biomarker of illicit treatment with prednisolone and dexamethasone in calves. Our data revealed that urinary levels of prednisolone after both oral prednisolone treatments, never exceeded the value of 1.1 ng mL−1. Similar prednisolone levels were found in urine samples of untreated calves. Moreover the presence of 6β-hydroxyhydrocortisone below the CCα value made possible to estimate the 6β-hydroxyhydrocortisone/hydrocortisone ratio only in a very limited number of samples. Obtained data suggest that further criteria have to be considered to allow correct decisions about the urinary presence of prednisolone during control activities.

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