Avian eggs contain a variety of steroid hormones, which have been attributed as a tool for maternal phenotypic engineering. The majority of studies focuses on androgens, but also significant amounts of progesterone as well as other steroid hormones have been measured. The question if corticosterone is also present in eggs of chickens is currently under debate. The only analytical validation performed so far has failed to demonstrate corticosterone in the yolk of chickens, suggesting that antibodies for corticosterone measurement cross-react with other steroids present in the yolk. In order to investigate this assumption and to characterise potential cross-reacting hormones in more detail, we performed high-performance liquid chromatographic (HPLC) analyses of chicken yolk extracts and determined the concentration of immunoreactive corticosterone, progesterone and cortisol.
The progesterone antibody revealed several immunoreactive substances, including progesterone, pregnenolone and two substances with lower polarity. The corticosterone enzyme immunoassay detected immunoreactive substances at exactly the same elution positions as the progesterone assay and a very small peak at the elution position of corticosterone. Immunoreactive cortisol was not found. In addition, inner and outer regions of the yolk sphere were analysed separately via HPLC. We found different concentrations of immunoreactive substances between the inner and outer yolk regions, probably reflecting the steroidogenic activity of the follicle cells during oocyte growth. We conclude that in homogenised yolk extracts without previous clean-up, the measured corticosterone concentrations may actually reflect those of progesterone and its precursors, most probably being 5 alpha- and 5 beta-pregnanes and pregnenolone. (C) 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.