Bedtime salivary cortisol and cortisone by LC-MS/MS in healthy adult subjects: evaluation of sampling time


Endocrine Research Laboratory, Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center, Aurora Research Institute


The measurement of late-night salivary cortisol is a mainstay in the diagnosis of Cushing syndrome. Furthermore, the measurement of salivary cortisol is useful in assessing the cortisol awakening response. Because the salivary glands express 11-β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, the measurement of salivary cortisone may improve the performance of salivary corticosteroid measurements. We measured salivary cortisol by enzyme immunoassay (EIA) and salivary cortisol and cortisone by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) in only 50 µL of saliva sampled from 54 healthy subjects (aged 20 to 64 years). We allowed patients to sample at their normal bedtime (2025 to 2400 hours) to answer a common question as to whether sampling at the normal bedtime is equivalent to the standard required sampling at 2300 to 2400 hours. We found that the salivary cortisol and cortisone results by LC-MS/MS correlated well with salivary cortisol measured with the US Food and Drug Administration-cleared EIA. Furthermore, the upper limit of normal of salivary cortisol by EIA for bedtime samples was lower than the previously published upper limit of normal with sampling required at 2300 to 2400 hours. There were no significant effects of age or sex on any of the salivary steroid measurements. We conclude that (i) salivary cortisol and cortisone can be reliably measured by LC-MS/MS in small volumes of saliva and (ii) that patients can be evaluated using saliva sampled at their normal bedtime, rather than being required to stay awake until 2300 to 2400 hours.

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