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Explorative study on scale cortisol accumulation in wild caught common dab (Limanda limanda)
Vercauteren, M.; Ampe, B.; Devriese, L.; Moons, C.P.H.; Decostere, A.; Aerts, J.; Chiers, K. (2022). Explorative study on scale cortisol accumulation in wild caught common dab (Limanda limanda). Bmc Veterinary Research 18(1): 324.
In: BMC Veterinary Research. BMC: London. e-ISSN 1746-6148, more
Peer reviewed article  

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    Limanda limanda (Linnaeus, 1758) [WoRMS]

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    Flatfish live in a diverse marine ecosystem that is changing due to natural variations and anthropogenic influences. These changes can evoke a stress response mainly resulting in production of the glucocorticoid cortisol, which mediates effects on various levels of biological organization. The finding that cortisol accumulates in fish scales, offering a retrospective view on cortisol production, provides opportunities to use this matrix for chronic stress assessment. The present study is the first to gather information on scale cortisol concentration in wild-caught common dab (Limanda limanda), based on a two-pronged approach using (1) field measurements and (2) a laboratory in vivo-study where wild-caught dab were fed by cortisol-spiked feed during 30 or 90 days to demonstrate the possible accumulation of cortisol in the scales and to evaluate its impact on fish health.


    Based on the field measurements, the average scale cortisol concentration in wild-caught fish was 0.0034 ± 0.0046 µg kg−1 scale (n = 67). This indicates that wild common dab is indeed able to incorporate cortisol in the scales.

    Based on the experimental data, the cortisol-fed fish showed an increased plasma cortisol concentration (80.16 ± 82.58 µg L−1) compared to the control group (4.54 ± 9.57 µg L−1) after 30 days of cortisol feeding. The increase in plasma cortisol concentration was positively correlated with an increased cortisol concentration in the scale after 30 days of cortisol-spiked feeding. This correlation was, however, no longer observed after 90 days of cortisol-spiked feeding. Interestingly, cortisol concentration of the scales on the pigmented side was significantly higher compared to the non-pigmented side. Some health parameters such as epidermal thickness, body condition and Ichthyobodo sp. parasitic infection showed a correlation with scale cortisol concentration after 30 days.


    We have demonstrated that common dab is able to accumulate cortisol in its scales. This seems to occur proportionally to circulating concentrations of plasma cortisol in fish fed with cortisol supplemented feed after 30 days.

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