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J Vet Intern Med. 2007 Jul-Aug;21(4):791-6.

Plasma adrenocorticotropin, cortisol, and adrenocorticotropin/cortisol ratios in septic and normal-term foals.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.



Little information exists on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in septic foals.


The plasma concentrations of adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) and cortisol are expected to be higher in septic foals as compared to normal foals. The concentrations of hormones in septic foals also are expected to differ further depending upon survival.


Twenty-eight control foals and 46 septic foals <14 days of age were included in this study.


Blood was collected in EDTA once from 28 normal foals born in the University of Georgia or Cornell University equine research herds and from 46 septic foals within 12 hours after admission to 1 of the 3 tertiary care referral centers involved in the study. Septic foal selection was based on a sepsis score of >11 or a positive blood culture. The control foals were age matched to the septic foals in the study. ACTH and cortisol concentrations were measured by a chemiluminescent immunoassay system.


Cortisol concentrations in control foals did not vary with age. Septic foals had significantly higher mean ACTH, cortisol, and ACTH/cortisol ratios than did normal foals. Within the septic foal group, 28 foals survived to discharge, and 18 were euthanized or died. The mean age was not significantly different between the septic surviving and nonsurviving foals. The mean ACTH/cortisol ratio was significantly higher in the septic nonsurviving foals as compared to the septic surviving foals.


Septic foals had higher hormone concentrations as compared to normal foals, which is an expected endocrine response to critical illness. The increased ACTH/cortisol ratio in nonsurviving septic foals in comparison to surviving septic foals could indicate hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction at the level of the adrenal gland in critically ill septic foals.

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