Evaluating Dermal Bone as a Novel Source of Endocrine Information in Ninespine and Threespine Stickleback Fish

D. Dillon, P. E. Witten, C. L. Buck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Monitoring the physiology of small aquatic and marine teleost fish presents challenges. Blood samples, often the first choice for endocrinologists, can be difficult or even impossible to obtain and alternative matrices currently used for hor- mone analyses do not occur in fishes (e.g., hair, feathers etc.) or are not easily collected from small aquatic organisms (e.g., urine and feces). Some teleosts, however, have enlarged bony dermal elements that possibly accumulate and store steroid hormones in physiological relevant concentrations. Both threespine stickleback ( Gasterosteus aculeatus ) and ninespine stickleback ( Pungi- tius pungitius ) have a series of external, lateral bony plates, dorsal spines, and a pair of pelvic spines attached to the pelvic girdle. We investigated if cortisol, the primary circulating glucocorticoid in teleosts, could be extracted from stickleback dermal bone and quantified using a commercially available enzyme immunoassay (EIA). We successfully validated a cortisol EIA for dermal bone extracts, determined that cortisol was detectable in both species, and found that dermal bone cortisol levels significantly correlated with cortisol levels in whole body homogenate. Ninespine stickleback had significantly higher dermal bone cortisol concentrations than threespine stickleback and female threespine stickleback tended to have over twice the mean dermal bone cortisol concentration than males. Because both stickleback species are widely used for ecotoxicological studies, using dermal bone as a source of endocrine information, while leaving the body for contaminant, genomic, histological, and stable isotope analyses, could be a powerful and parsimonious tool. Further investigation and physiological validations are necessary to fully understand the utility of this new sample matrix.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberobad007
JournalIntegrative Organismal Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Plant Science


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