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Open access

Karen Decaestecker, Veerle Wijtvliet, Peter Coremans and Nike Van Doninck

Summary

ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism is caused by an ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS) in 20% of cases. We report a rare cause of EAS in a 41-year-old woman, presenting with clinical features of Cushing’s syndrome which developed over several months. Biochemical tests revealed hypokalemic metabolic alkalosis and high morning cortisol and ACTH levels. Further testing, including 24-hour urine analysis, late-night saliva and low-dose dexamethasone suppression test, confirmed hypercortisolism. An MRI of the pituitary gland was normal. Inferior petrosal sinus sampling (IPSS) revealed inconsistent results, with a raised basal gradient but no rise after CRH stimulation. Additional PET-CT showed intense metabolic activity in the left nasal vault. Biopsy of this lesion revealed an unsuspected cause of Cushing’s syndrome: an olfactory neuroblastoma (ONB) with positive immunostaining for ACTH. Our patient underwent transnasal resection of the tumour mass, followed by adjuvant radiotherapy. Normalisation of cortisol and ACTH levels was seen immediately after surgery. Hydrocortisone substitution was started to prevent withdrawal symptoms. As the hypothalamic–pituitary–axis slowly recovered, daily hydrocortisone doses were tapered and stopped 4 months after surgery. Clinical Cushing’s stigmata improved gradually.

Learning points:

  • Ectopic ACTH syndrome can originate from tumours outside the thoracoabdominal region, like the sinonasal cavity.
  • The diagnostic accuracy of IPSS is not 100%: both false positives and false negatives may occur and might be due to a sinonasal tumour with ectopic ACTH secretion.
  • Olfactory neuroblastoma (syn. esthesioneuroblastoma), named because of its sensory (olfactory) and neuroectodermal origin in the upper nasal cavity, is a rare malignant neoplasm. It should not be confused with neuroblastoma, a tumour of the sympathetic nervous system typically occurring in children.
  • If one criticises MRI of the pituitary gland because of ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism, one should take a close look at the sinonasal field as well.
Open access

Carlos Tavares Bello, Emma van der Poest Clement and Richard Feelders

Summary

Cushing’s syndrome is a rare disease that results from prolonged exposure to supraphysiological levels of glucocorticoids. Severe and rapidly progressive cases are often, but not exclusively, attributable to ectopic ACTH secretion. Extreme hypercortisolism usually has florid metabolic consequences and is associated with an increased infectious and thrombotic risk. The authors report on a case of a 51-year-old male that presented with severe Cushing’s syndrome secondary to an ACTH-secreting pituitary macroadenoma, whose diagnostic workup was affected by concurrent subclinical multifocal pulmonary infectious nodules. The case is noteworthy for the atypically severe presentation of Cushing’s disease, and it should remind the clinician of the possible infectious and thrombotic complications associated with Cushing’s syndrome.

Learning points:

  • Severe Cushing’s syndrome is not always caused by ectopic ACTH secretion.
  • Hypercortisolism is a state of immunosuppression, being associated with an increased risk for opportunistic infections.
  • Infectious pulmonary infiltrates may lead to imaging diagnostic dilemmas when investigating a suspected ectopic ACTH secretion.
  • Cushing’s syndrome carries an increased thromboembolic risk that may even persist after successful surgical management.
  • Antibiotic and venous thromboembolism prophylaxis should be considered in every patient with severe Cushing’s syndrome.
Open access

Shinsuke Uraki, Hiroyuki Ariyasu, Asako Doi, Hiroto Furuta, Masahiro Nishi, Takeshi Usui, Hiroki Yamaue and Takashi Akamizu

Summary

A 54-year-old man had gastrinoma, parathyroid hyperplasia and pituitary tumor. His family history indicated that he might have multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1). MEN1 gene analysis revealed a heterozygous germline mutation (Gly156Arg). Therefore, we diagnosed him with MEN1. Endocrinological tests revealed that his serum prolactin (PRL) and plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) levels were elevated to 1699 ng/mL and 125 pg/mL respectively. Immunohistochemical analysis of the resected pancreatic tumors revealed that the tumors did not express ACTH. Overnight 0.5 and 8 mg dexamethasone suppression tests indicated that his pituitary tumor was a PRL-ACTH-producing plurihormonal tumor. Before transsphenoidal surgery, cabergoline was initiated. Despite no decrease in the volume of the pituitary tumor, PRL and ACTH levels decreased to 37.8 ng/mL and 57.6 pg/mL respectively. Owing to the emergence of metastatic gastrinoma in the liver, octreotide was initiated. After that, PRL and ACTH levels further decreased to 5.1 ng/mL and 19.7 pg/mL respectively. He died from liver dysfunction, and an autopsy of the pituitary tumor was performed. In the autopsy study, histopathological and immunohistochemical (IHC) analysis showed that the tumor was single adenoma and the cells were positive for ACTH, growth hormone (GH), luteinizing hormone (LH) and PRL. RT-PCR analysis showed that the tumor expressed mRNA encoding all anterior pituitary hormones, pituitary transcription factor excluding estrogen receptor (ER) β, somatostatin receptor (SSTR) 2, SSTR5 and dopamine receptor D (D2R). PRL-ACTH-producing tumor is a very rare type of pituitary tumor, and treatment with cabergoline and octreotide may be useful for controlling hormone levels secreted from a plurihormonal pituitary adenoma, as seen in this case of MEN1.

Learning points:

  • Although plurihormonal pituitary adenomas were reported to be more frequent in patients with MEN1 than in those without, the combination of PRL and ACTH is rare.
  • RT-PCR analysis showed that the pituitary tumor expressed various pituitary transcription factors and IHC analysis revealed that the tumor was positive for PRL, ACTH, GH and LH.
  • Generally, the effectiveness of dopamine agonist and somatostatin analog in corticotroph adenomas is low; however, if the plurihormonal pituitary adenoma producing ACTH expresses SSTR2, SSTR5 and D2R, medical therapy for the pituitary adenoma may be effective.
Open access

Pia T Dinesen, Jakob Dal, Plamena Gabrovska, Mette Gaustadnes, Claus H Gravholt, Karen Stals, Judit Denes, Sylvia L Asa, Márta Korbonits and Jens O L Jørgensen

Summary

A patient of Cushing's disease (CD) characterized by a large tumor and only subtle symptoms of hormonal hypersecretion was examined. The patient had a germline variant in the aryl hydrocarbon receptor-interacting protein (AIP) gene. A 50-year-old male presenting with headache was diagnosed with a large pituitary tumor by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). His visual fields were intact and he exhibited no features of CD. Owing to an exuberant response to synacthen, an overnight dexamethasone suppression test was performed revealing inadequate suppression of plasma cortisol (419 nmol/l). Owing to tumor growth and visual field impairment, he underwent transsphenoidal surgery and developed hypocortisolemia. The pathology specimen revealed a sparsely granulated corticotrope adenoma. Postoperative MRI showed a large tumor remnant. The patient developed skin hyperpigmentation and a synacthen test demonstrated high basal and stimulated cortisol levels; an overnight dexamethasone suppression test showed no suppression (791 nmol/l) and elevated plasma ACTH levels (135 ng/l). A transcranial operation was performed followed by radiotherapy. Two months after radiotherapy, he developed secondary adrenocortical failure. Genetic testing revealed an AIP variant of unknown significance (p.R16H) without loss of the normal AIP allele in the tumor. A literature review showed ten CD patients with AIP gene variants, of whom five (including our case) were p.R16H. CD is occasionally dominated by pituitary tumor growth rather than symptoms of hypersecretion. The particular AIP gene variant identified in our patient is shared by four other reported cases of CD. Future studies are needed to assess whether the reported AIP gene variant is more than just coincidental.

Learning points

  • CD is occasionally dominated by pituitary tumor growth rather than symptoms of hypersecretion.
  • Resolution of both tumor remnant and hormonal hypersecretion may occur within 2 months after postoperative radiotherapy.
  • The particular AIP gene variant identified in our patient is shared by four other reported cases of CD.