Research Publication

Investigation of the use of serum biomarkers for the detection of cardiac disease in marine mammals

By Melissa J. Joblon, Jennifer E. Flower, Laura A. Thompson, Kathleen E. Biddle, Deborah A. Burt, Tanja S. Zabka, Michael J. Adkesson, Barbie Halaska, Caroline E. C. Goertz, Natalie Rouse, Sion N. Cahoon, Kristen Jetzke, Richard P. Giovanelli, Allison D. Tuttle

Originally published in Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine in June 2022



Cardiac disease has been extensively documented in marine mammals; however, it remains difficult to diagnose antemortem. Assays measuring cardiac troponin I (cTnI) and N-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP) are used as sensitive and specific biomarkers of cardiac disease in many species, but have not been widely investigated in marine mammals. This study aimed to provide a set of reference values for cTnI and NT-proBNP in belugas (BW) (Delphinapterus leucas), sea otters (SO) (Enhydra lutris), Steller sea lions (SSL) (Eumetopias jubatus), and California sea lions (CSL) (Zalophus californianus) with and without cardiac disease, and to determine if these biomarkers are useful indicators of cardiac disease in these species. First, existing immunoassays for cTnI and NT-proBNP were successfully validated utilizing species-specific heart lysate spiked serum. Cohorts were defined by histopathology as animals with no evidence of cardiac disease (“control”), with confirmed cardiac disease (“disease”), and with concurrent renal and cardiac disease (“renal”) for which serum samples were then analyzed. Serum concentration ranges for cTnI (ng/ml) and NT-proBNP (pmol/L) were determined for control and disease cohorts. There was significantly higher cTnI (P= 0.003) and NT-proBNP (P= 0.004) concentrations in the CSL disease cohort, as well as positive trends in BW, SO, and SSL disease cohorts that did not reach statistical significance. NT-proBNP concentrations were significantly higher in the CSL renal cohort compared with the control (P < 0.001) and disease (P= 0.007) cohorts. These results suggest that cTnI and NT-proBNP may be clinically useful in the antemortem diagnosis of cardiac disease in CSL, and warrant further investigation in BW, SO, and SL.

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