Effect of physical exercise on cortisol concentration and neutrophil oxygen metabolism in peripheral blood of horses

Wiesław Krumrych 1 , Ryszard Gołda 1 , Marcin Gołyński 2 , Hanna Markiewicz 3  and Mateusz Buzała 4
  • 1 Department of Immunobiology, Institute of Experimental Biology, Kazimierz Wielki University, Powstańców Wlkp. 10, 85-090 , Bydgoszcz, Poland
  • 2 Sub-Department of Internal Diseases of Farm Animals and Horses, Department and Clinic of Animal Internal Diseases, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Life Sciences, Akademicka 13, 20-950 , Lublin, Poland
  • 3 Laboratory of Milk Examination, Institute of Experimental Biology, Kazimierz Wielki University, Powstańców Wlkp. 10, 85-090 , Bydgoszcz, Poland
  • 4 Department of Animal Biochemistry and Biotechnology, UTP University of Science and Technology, Mazowiecka 28, 85-084 , Bydgoszcz, Poland


The aim of the study was to evaluate the effect of regular physical exercise on cortisol concentration and oxygen-dependent bactericidal activity of neutrophils in peripheral blood in recreational and competitive sport horses (racehorses - Ra, trotters - T, jumping horses - J, driving horses - D). The study was conducted on 55 clinically healthy horses. Blood samples were collected from the external jugular vein three times: before exercise, immediately after exercise, and after 30-min rest. Blood samples were subjected to haematological examination, cortisol concentration was determined by radioimmunoassay (RIA) and neutrophil oxygen metabolism of neutrophils was determined using a chemiluminescence method. The analysis showed that cortisol concentration was significantly higher (P<0.05) post-exercise only in the blood of sport horses. This finding, along with a significant correlation (P<0.00005) with the heart and respiratory rates, suggests that the magnitude of cortisol secretion is associated with the intensity and duration of exercise. The relatively small post-exercise increase in cortisol concentration during different exercises of horses resulted in a transient increase of chemiluminescence activity of neutrophils, mainly in D (P<0.00001) and J horses (P<0.01). In the studied groups analysis of the correlation between cortisol concentration and other parameters showed significant correlation only in the case of the CL total in T (P<0.02) and D horses (P<0.004). It is therefore apparent that in a limited concentration, this hormone may stimulate the activity of these cells, although the effect of other neurohormonal factors cannot be excluded. This result confirms that regular and moderate training loads have a beneficial effect on the immunological status of horses.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Adamson E.J., Slocombe R.F. (1995). Flow cytometric studies of equine phagocytes following strenuous exercise. Equine Vet. J., 18 (Suppl.): 37-42.

  • Art T., Lekeux P. (2005). Exercise-induced physiological adjustments to stressful conditions in sports horses. Livest. Prod. Sci., 92: 101-111.

  • Aurich C., Aurich J.E. (2008). Effects of stress on reproductive functions in the horse. Pferdeheilkunde, 24: 99-102.

  • Bayly W.M. (1987). The interpretation of clinicopathologic data from the equine athlete. Vet. Clin. North Am. Equine Pract., 3: 631-647.

  • Bazzano M., Giudice E., Rizzo M., Congiu F., Zumbo A., Arfuso F., Di Pietro S., Bruschetta D., Piccione G. (2016). Application ofacombined global positioning and heart rate monitoring system in jumper horses during an official competition - a preliminary study. Acta Vet. Hung., 64: 189-200.

  • Casella S., Vazzana I., Giudice E.W., Fazio F., Piccione G. (2016). Relationship between serum cortisol levels and some physiological parameters following reining training session. Anim. Sci. J., 87: 729-735.

  • Cayado P., Muñoz-Escassi B., Domínguez C., Manley W., Olabarri B., Sánche z dela Muela M., Castejon F., Marañon G., Vara E. (2006). Hormone response to training and competition in athletic horses. Equine Vet. J., 36 (Suppl.): 274-278.

  • Chiaradia E., Avellini L., Rueca F., Spaterna A., Porciello F., Antonioni M.T., Gaiti A. (1998). Physical exercise, oxidative stress and muscle damage in racehorses. Comp. Biochem. Physiol. B., 119: 833-836.

  • Desmecht D., Linden A., Amory H., Art T., Lekeux P. (1996). Relationship of plasma lactate production to cortisol release following completion of different types of sporting events in horses. Vet. Res. Commun., 20: 371-379.

  • Escribano B.M., Agűera E.I., Vivo R., Santisteban R., Castejón F.M., Rubio M.D. (2002). Benefits of moderate training to the nonspecific immune response of colts. Equine Vet. J., 34 (Suppl.): 182-185.

  • Escribano B.M., Castejón F.M., Vivo R., Santisteban R., Agűera E.I., Rubio M.D. (2005). Effects of training on phagocytic and oxidative metabolism of peripheral neutrophils in horses exercised in the aerobic-anaerobic transition area. Vet. Res. Commun., 29: 149-158.

  • Eskandari F., Sternberg E.M. (2002). Neural-immune interactions in health and disease. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci., 966: 20-27.

  • Fazio E., Medica P., Cravana C., Molinari P., Ferlazzo A. (2014). Effect of experience on adrenocortical and thyroid responses of Arabian horses to gymkhana games. J. Equine Vet. Sci., 34: 799-804.

  • Finno C.J., Mc Kenzie E., Valberg S.J., Pagan J. (2010). Effect of fitness on glucose, insulin and cortisol responses to diets varying in starch and fat content in Thoroughbred horses with recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis. Equine Vet. J., 38 (Suppl.): 323-328.

  • Folsom R.W., Littlefield- Chabaud M.A., French D.D., Pourciau S.S., Mistric L., Horohov D.W. (2001). Exercise alters the immune response to equine influenza virus and increases susceptibility to infection. Equine Vet. J., 33: 664-669.

  • Forslid J., Hed J. (1982). In vitro effect of hydrocortisone on the attachment and ingestion phases of immunoglobulin Gand complement 3β-mediated phagocytosis by human neutrophils. Infect. Immun., 38: 811-816.

  • Frape D. (2010). Equine nutrition and feeding. Oxford, UK, John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 4th ed. Gorgasser I., Tichy A., Palme R. (2007). Faecal cortisol metabolites in Quarter Horses during initial training under field conditions. Vet. Med. Austria / Wien. Tierärztl. Mschr., 94: 226-230.

  • Hinchcliff K.W., Kaneps A.J., Geor R.J. (2008). Equine exercise physiology: The science of exercise in the athletic horse. Elsevier Health Sciences, Edinburgh, New York, p. 283.

  • Hines M.T., Schott II H.C., Bayly W.M., Leroux A.J. (1996). Exercise and immunity: review with emphasis on the horse. J. Vet. Intern. Med., 10: 280-289.

  • Horohov D.W., Dimock A., Guirnalda P., Folsom R.W., Mc Keever K.H., Ma- linowski K. (1999). Effect of exercise on the immune response of young and old horses. Am. J. Vet. Res., 60: 643-647.

  • Houpt K., Houpe T.R., Johnson J.L., Erb H.N., Yeon S.C. (2001). The effect of exercise deprivation on the behaviour and physiology of straight stall confined pregnant mares. Anim. Welf., 10: 257-267.

  • Hyyppä S. (2005). Endocrinal responses in exercising horses. Livest. Prod. Sci., 92: 113-121.

  • Iversen P.O., Stokland A., Rolstad B., Benestad H.B. (1994). Adrenaline-induced leu kocytosis: recruitment of blood cells from rat spleen, bone marrow and lymphatics. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol., 68: 219-227.

  • Jensen-Waern M., Lindberg A., Johannisson A., Grondahl G., Lindgren J.A., Essen- Gustavsson B. (1999). The effects of an endurance ride on metabolism and neutrophil function. Equine Vet. J., 30 (Suppl.): 605-609.

  • Jimenez M., Hinchcliff K.W., Farris J.W. (1998). Catecholamine and cortisol responses of horses to incremental exertion. Vet. Res. Commun., 22: 107-118.

  • Kędzierski W., Strzelec K., Cywińska A., Kowalik S. (2013). Salivary cortisol concentration in exercised thoroughbred horses. J. Equine Vet. Sci., 33: 1106-1109.

  • Korhonen P.A., Lilius E.M., Hyyppä S., Räsänen L.A., Pösö A.R. (2000). Production of reactive oxygen species in neutrophils after repeated bouts of exercise in Standard bred trotters. J. Vet. Med. A, 47: 565-573.

  • Krumrych W. (2006). Variability of clinical and haematological indices in the course of training exercise in jumping horses. Bull. Vet. Inst. Pulawy, 50: 391-396.

  • Krumrych W., Wiśniewski E. (2006). Influence of selected stimulators on chemiluminescence of peripheral blood neutrophils in horses. Med. Weter., 62: 204-206.

  • Lewicki R., Tchórzewski H., Denys A., Kowalska M., Golińska A. (1987). Effect of physical exercise on some parameters of immunity in conditioned sportsmen. Int. J. Sports Med., 8: 309-314.

  • Linden A., Art T., Amory H., Desmecht D., Lekeux P. (1991). Effect of 5 different types of exercise, transportation and ACTHadministration on plasma cortisol concentration in sport horses. Equine Exercise Physiol., 3: 391-396.

  • Malinowski K., Shock E.J., Rochelle P., Kearns C.F., Guirnalda P.D., Mc Kee- ver K.H. (2006). Plasma beta-endorphin, cortisol and immune responses to acute exercise are altered by age and exercise training in horses. Equine Vet. J., 36 (Suppl.): 267-273.

  • Marc M., Parvizi N., Ellendorff F., Kallweit E., Elsaesser F. (2000). Plasma cortisol and ACTHconcentrations in the warmblood horse in response toastandardized treadmill exercise test as physiological markers for evaluation of training status. J. Anim. Sci., 78: 1936-1946.

  • Mc Carthy D.A., Dale M.M. (1988). The leucocytosis of exercise. Areview and model. Sports Med., 6: 333-363.

  • Mc Keever K.H. (2003). Aging and how it affects the physiological response to exercise in the horse. Clin. Tech. Equine Pract., 2: 258-265.

  • Mircean M., Giurgiu G., Mircean V., Zinveliu E. (2007). Serum cortisol variation of sport horses in relation with the level of training and effort intensity. Bull. USAMV-CN, 64: 488-492.

  • Miyashiro P., Michima L.E.S., Bonomo C.C.M., Fernandes W.R. (2012). Plasma cortisol level attributable to physical exercise in endurance horses. Ars. Vet. Jaboticabal., 28: 85-89.

  • Nachreiner R., Refsal K.R., Rick M., Mazaki-Tovi M., Sist M.D. (2015). Endocrinology reference ranges. Diagnostic Center for Population & Animal Health, Michigan State University.

  • Nagata S., Takeda F., Kurosawa M., Hiraga A., Kai M., Taya K. (1999). Plasma adrenocorticotropin, cortisol and catecholamines response to various exercise. Equine Vet. J. 30 (Suppl.): 570-574.

  • Nogueira G.P., Barnabe R.C., Bedrande Castro J.C., Moreira A.F., Fernan - des W.R., Mirandola R.M.S., Howard D.L. (2002). Serum cortisol, lactate and creatinine concentrations in Thoroughbred fillies of different ages and states of training. Braz. J. Vet. Res. Anim. Sci., 39: 54-57.

  • Pedersen B.K., Hoffman- Goetz L. (2000). Exercise and the immune system: regulation, integration, and adaptation. Physiol. Rev., 80: 1055-1081.

  • Peeters M., Closson C., Beckers J.F., Vandenheede M. (2013). Rider and horse salivary cortisol levels during competition and impact on performance. J. Equine Vet. Sci., 33: 155-160.

  • Pyne D.B. (1994). Regulation of neutrophils function during exercise. Sports Med., 17: 245-258.

  • Raidal S.L., Love D.N., Bailey G.D., Rose R.J. (2000). Effect of single bouts of moderate and high intensity exercise and training on equine peripheral blood neutrophil function. Res. Vet. Sci., 68: 141-146.

  • Reichlin S. (1993). Neuroendocrine-immune interactions. N. Engl. J. Med., 329: 1246-1242.

  • Robson P.J., Alston T.D., Myburgh K.H. (2003). Prolonged suppression of the innate immune system in the horse following an 80 km endurance race. Equine Vet. J., 35: 133-137.

  • Robson P.J., Blannin A.K., Walsh N.P., Castell L.M., Gleeson M. (1999). Effects of exercise intensity, duration and recovery on in vitro neutrophil function in male athletes. Int. J. Sports Med., 20: 128-135.

  • Rossdale P.D., Burguez P.N., Cash R.S.G. (1982). Changes in blood neutrophils/lymphocyte ratio related to adrenocortical function in the horse. Equine Vet. J., 14: 293-298.

  • Sabev S. (2011). Effect of the jumping activity in the course of training exercise on the level of serum cortisol, blood lactate and heart rate in horses. Trakia J. Sci., 9: 78-82.

  • Shinkai S., Watanabe S., Asai H., Shek P.N. (1996). Cortisol response to exercise and post exercise suppression of blood lymphocyte subset counts. Int. J. Sports Med., 17: 597-603.

  • Smith J.A., Telford R.D., Mason I.B., Weidemann M.J. (1990). Exercise, training and neutrophil microbicidal activity. Int. J. Sports, 11: 179-187.

  • Strzelec K., Kankofer M., Pietrzak S. (2011). Cortisol concentration in the saliva of horses subjected to different kinds of exercise. Acta Vet. Brno, 80: 101-105.

  • Suzuki K., Totsuka M., Nakaji S., Yamada M., Kudoh S., Liu Q., Sugawara K., Yamaya K., Sato K. (1999). Endurance exercise causes interaction among stress hormones, cytokines, neutrophil dynamics, and muscle damage. J. Appl. Physiol., 87: 1360-1367.

  • Szafrańska B., Zięcik A., Okrasa S. (2002). Primary antisera against selected steroids or proteins and secondary antisera againstγ-globulins - an available tool for studies of reproductive processes. Reprod. Biol., 2: 187-204.

  • Thornton J. (1985). Hormonal responses to exercise and training. Vet. Clin. North. Am. Equine Pract., 1: 477-496.

  • Toutain P.L., Lassourd V., Popot M.A., Laroute V., Alvinerie M., Bonnaire Y. (1995). Urinary cortisol excretion in the resting and exercising horse. Equine Vet. J., 27: 457-462.

  • Vincze A., Szabó Cs., Hevesi A., Veres S., Ütő D., Babinszky L. (2010). Effect of age and event on post exercise values of blood biochemical parameters in show jumping horses. Acta Agr. Kapos., 14: 185-191.

  • Wong C.W., Smith S.E., Thong Y.H., Opdebeeck J.P., Thornton J.R. (1992). Effects of exercise stress on various immune functions in horses. Am. J. Vet. Res., 53: 1414-1417.


Journal + Issues