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Open access

Hiroki Nakajima, Yasuhiro Niida, Eriko Hamada, Kuwata Hirohito, Masahide Ota, Sadanori Okada, Takako Mohri, Yukako Kurematsu, Shigeto Hontsu, Shigeo Muro, and Yutaka Takahashi


Ectopic ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone) syndrome (EAS) is rarely associated with small-cell lung cancer (SCLC). Although chemotherapy is initially effective for SCLC, complicated EAS scarcely improves. Recently, immune checkpoint inhibitors have been used to treat SCLC. Atezolizumab plus chemotherapy for SCLC improved progression-free survival compared to conventional chemotherapy. However, little has been reported on the efficacy of the combination therapy for SCLC with EAS. We report a 72-year-old male who presented with 4-week history of leg oedema, proximal myopathy, weight loss, and worsened symptoms of diabetes and hypertension. Laboratory findings revealed hypokalaemia, increased plasma ACTH, and serum cortisol levels. Cortisol levels were not suppressed by the high-dose dexamethasone test. Chest and abdominal CT revealed a right lower lobe tumour with multiple metastases on the hilar lymph nodes, liver, lumbar spine, and bilateral enlarged adrenal glands. The patient was diagnosed with stage 4B SCLC with EAS. Hypercortisolaemia was then treated with metyrapone and atezolizumab plus chemotherapy, which was started for SCLC. After 10 days, the tumour shrank noticeably, and the ACTH level drastically decreased concomitantly with low cortisol levels with symptoms of fever, appetite loss, and general fatigue. Hydrocortisone treatment was initiated, and the symptoms resolved immediately. We describe a case of SCLC with EAS treated with atezolizumab plus chemotherapy, presenting with adrenal insufficiency. Close observation is required for patients with adrenal insufficiency receiving atezolizumab plus chemotherapy because of its stronger effect. Furthermore, advances in cancer therapy and care for endocrine paraneoplastic syndrome needs to be adapted.

Learning points

  • The immune checkpoint inhibitor atezolizumab has recently been approved for the treatment of small-cell lung cancer (SCLC).

  • Approximately 1–6% of tumour ectopically produce ACTH and cause ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS) as an endocrine paraneoplastic syndrome.

  • The use of combined chemotherapy and atezolizumab in the ectopic ACTH syndrome secondary to small-cell lung cancer may cause a precipitous fall in circulating ACTH/cortisol, resulting in symptomatic adrenal insufficiency

  • The advances in cancer therapy and treatment for endocrine paraneoplastic syndrome need to be adapted.

Open access

Ashwini Maudhoo, Avinaash Maharaj, Federica Buonocore, Gabriel Angel Martos-Moreno, Jesús Argente, John C Achermann, Li F Chan, and Lou A Metherell


Congenital isolated ACTH deficiency (IAD) is a rare condition characterised by low plasma ACTH and serum cortisol with normal production of other pituitary hormones. TBX19 (also known as TPIT) is a T-box pituitary restricted transcription factor important for POMC gene transcription and terminal differentiation of POMC-expressing cells. TBX19 gene mutations have been shown to cause neonatal-onset congenital IAD. We report a neonate of Romanian origin, who presented at 15 h of life with respiratory arrest and hypoglycaemia which recurred over the following 2 weeks. Biochemical investigations revealed IAD, with undetectable serum cortisol (cortisol < 1 μg/dL; normal range (NR): 7.8–26.2) and plasma ACTH levels within the normal range (22.1 pg/mL; NR: 4.7–48.8). He responded to hydrocortisone treatment. Patient DNA was analysed by a HaloPlex next-generation sequencing array targeting genes for adrenal insufficiency. A novel homozygous synonymous mutation p.Thr96= (Chr1:168260482; c.288G>A; rs376493164; allele frequency 1 × 10−5, no homozygous) was found in exon 2 of the TBX19 gene. The effect of this was assessed by an in vitro splicing assay, which revealed aberrant splicing of exon 2 giving rise to a mutant mRNA transcript whereas the WT vector spliced exon 2 normally. This was identified as the likely cause of IAD in the patient. The predicted protein product would be non-functional in keeping with the complete loss of cortisol production and early presentation in the patient.

Learning points

  • Synonymous variants (a nucleotide change that does not alter protein sequence) usually thought to be benign may still have detrimental effects on RNA and protein function causing disease. Hence, they should not be ignored, especially if very rare in public databases.

  • In vitro splicing assays can be employed to characterise the consequence of intronic and exonic nucleotide gene changes that may alter splicing.

  • Establishing a diagnosis due to a TBX19 mutation is important as it defines a condition of isolated ACTH deficiency not associated with additional pituitary deficiencies.

Open access

Salvatore Cannavò and Serafinella Patrizia Cannavò


Factitious Cushing’s syndrome (CS) is a very rare form of Münchausen syndrome. Its presentation and course are extremely heterogeneous, and diagnosis is generally challenging. We report the case of a 52-year-old woman who was initially investigated because of the occurrence of cushingoid features. Nevertheless, endocrine work-up showed very low morning plasma ACTH and serum cortisol levels. In addition, it also demonstrated central hypopituitarism and hypogonadotropic hypogonadism. Head MRI showed a small pituitary mass. Based on these results, and probably overlooking the initial clinical suspicion, general practitioner (GP) referred the patient to our Endocrine Unit for hypopituitarism. At inspection, moon face, central obesity, and bruising were evident. Multiple ulcerative skin lesions were also concentrated in the right arm and leg. Dermatology evaluation suggested that the lesions were self-provoked. For several days, the patient denied the assumption of corticosteroids, but we finally discovered that the GP’ nurse had prescribed betamethasone without the GP’s knowledge for about 2 years. In conclusion, the surreptitious assumption of corticosteroids is very rare, but the physicians should be aware that pituitary function could be impaired by high doses of corticosteroids, mimicking hypopituitarism. In these patients, a multidisciplinary approach and environmental investigation can be useful to diagnose factitious CS.

Learning points

  • Surreptitious assumption of corticosteroids can cause heterogeneous presentation, ranging from Cushing’s syndrome to multiple hypopituitarism.

  • Suppression of ACTH and cortisol levels in a patient with cushingoid features firstly suggests surreptitious assumption of corticosteroids.

  • A multidisciplinary approach can be extremely useful in patients with suspected factitious Cushing’s syndrome.

  • Sometimes, to prove surreptitious assumption of corticosteroids needs environmental investigation.