Influence of feeding status, time of the day, and season on baseline adrenocorticotropic hormone and the response to thyrotropin releasing hormone-stimulation test in healthy horses.
Cosinor analysis was used to evaluate whether pituitary and adrenal hormones exhibit circadian rhythmicity in horses. The effect of season and animal age on their respective rhythms was also determined. In addition, the usefulness of evaluating cortisol rhythmicity for the diagnosis of pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) was assessed. Serum cortisol concentrations (P < 0.01), but not plasma ACTH or α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH), showed a significant circadian periodicity in horses. An effect of season on hormone concentration was observed with plasma ACTH and α-MSH concentration greater in the fall and cortisol concentration greater in the spring (P < 0.001). Age did not affect cortisol rhythm, but it did blunt the variation in cortisol concentration in horses, similar to what has been previously reported to occur in aged people and dogs. In addition, our results suggest that clinically and diagnostically normal, non-PPID-affected horses commonly have a loss of cortisol diurnal rhythm. Therefore, measurement of circadian rhythm is not an appropriate diagnostic test for PPID.