Jenni-Eiermann, S., F. Helfenstein, A. Vallat, G. Glauser & L. Jenni (2015)

Corticosterone: effects on feather quality and deposition into feathers.

Further information

Methods Ecol. Evol. 6: 237–246



1. The concentration of the glucocorticoid hormone corticosterone (CORT) is increasingly used in ecology and conservation biology as an integratedmeasure of the historical record of an individual’s hypothalamo–pituitary– adrenal (HPA) activity during feather growth. However, where and how CORT is incorporated in feathers is incompletely known.
2. We therefore examined whether CORT is reliably measured with an enzyme immunoassay, where CORT is incorporated in the feather and where it affects feather quality, and whether CORT incorporation is related to plasma CORT levels, feather growth rate andmelanin pigmentation.
3. During the regrowth of plucked tail feathers, we injected pigeons with tritium-labelled CORT, and implanted a CORT-releasing pellet to increase plasma CORT concentration for about 3 days. In feather segments, wemeasured labelled CORT (DPM3H) and we quantified CORT with an enzyme immunoassay EIA (CORTEIA) and double-checked the results with ultra-high performance liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry (LCMS) (CORTMS).
4. Administered CORT affected feather structure and colour at the very base of the feather (epidermal collar, ramogenic zone) and reduced growth rate. In contrast, incorporation of CORT into the feather happened mainly in the blood quill, as shown with all threemethods (DPM3H, CORTEIA and CORTMS).
5. Incorporation of CORT into feathers was only roughly proportional to plasma concentration, proportional to feather growth rate and increased withmelanin pigmentation.
6. Measuring CORT in feather is a way to reveal past events of increased stress during feather growth in birds.
Keywords:: corticosterone, corticosterone incorporation, fault bar, feather, feather growth rate, melanin