Detection of endogenous cortisol in equine tears and blood at rest and after simulated stress

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To determine whether cortisol is present in equine tears at rest and during simulated stress and compare tear cortisol to serum free and total cortisol.

Materials and methods

Fourteen healthy adult horses were included. Paired tear total cortisol and serum total and free cortisol concentrations were measured with ELISA, chemiluminescent immunoassay, and ultrafiltration methodology, respectively, in 10 horses at rest once daily for five consecutive days. In an additional four horses, paired tear and serum samples were collected for cortisol measurement before and after adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation (cosyntropin, 1 μg/kg IV).


Cortisol was detectable in equine tears at rest. Following ACTH stimulation, tear cortisol increased significantly from baseline at 60–120 min (P ≤ 0.001). Serum total and free cortisol also increased significantly at 30–180 min after ACTH stimulation (P ≤ 0.001). Both serum and tear cortisol returned to baseline concentrations by 360 min. Changes in tear cortisol were similarly associated with changes in serum total and free cortisol, although high tear cortisol concentrations suggest a portion of tear cortisol may be protein-bound.


Cortisol is present in equine tears and increases in concert with serum cortisol following ACTH stimulation. Further study is needed to determine whether endogenous cortisol in tears contributes to ocular pathology.

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