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Open access

Matthieu St-Jean, Jessica MacKenzie-Feder, Isabelle Bourdeau and André Lacroix

Summary

A 29-year-old G4A3 woman presented at 25 weeks of pregnancy with progressive signs of Cushing’s syndrome (CS), gestational diabetes requiring insulin and hypertension. A 3.4 × 3.3 cm right adrenal adenoma was identified during abdominal ultrasound imaging for nephrolithiasis. Investigation revealed elevated levels of plasma cortisol, 24 h urinary free cortisol (UFC) and late-night salivary cortisol (LNSC). Serum ACTH levels were not fully suppressed (4 and 5 pmol/L (N: 2–11)). One month post-partum, CS regressed, 24-h UFC had normalised while ACTH levels were now less than 2 pmol/L; however, dexamethasone failed to suppress cortisol levels. Tests performed in vivo 6 weeks post-partum to identify aberrant hormone receptors showed no cortisol stimulation by various tests (including 300 IU hLH i.v.) except after administration of 250 µg i.v. Cosyntropin 1–24. Right adrenalectomy demonstrated an adrenocortical adenoma and atrophy of adjacent cortex. Quantitative RT-PCR analysis of the adenoma revealed the presence of ACTH (MC2) receptor mRNA, while LHCG receptor mRNA was almost undetectable. This case reveals that CS exacerbation in the context of pregnancy can result from the placental-derived ACTH stimulation of MC2 receptors on the adrenocortical adenoma. Possible contribution of other placental-derived factors such as oestrogens, CRH or CRH-like peptides cannot be ruled out.

Learning points:

  • Diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome during pregnancy is complicated by several physiological alterations in hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis regulation occurring in normal pregnancy.

  • Cushing’s syndrome (CS) exacerbation during pregnancy can be associated with aberrant expression of LHCG receptor on primary adrenocortical tumour or hyperplasia in some cases, but not in this patient.

  • Placental-derived ACTH, which is not subject to glucocorticoid negative feedback, stimulated cortisol secretion from this adrenal adenoma causing transient CS exacerbation during pregnancy.

  • Following delivery and tumour removal, suppression of HPA axis can require several months to recover and requires glucocorticoid replacement therapy.

Open access

Lukas Burget, Laura Audí Parera, Monica Fernandez-Cancio, Rolf Gräni, Christoph Henzen and Christa E Flück

Summary

Steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (STAR) is a key protein for the intracellular transport of cholesterol to the mitochondrium in endocrine organs (e.g. adrenal gland, ovaries, testes) and essential for the synthesis of all steroid hormones. Several mutations have been described and the clinical phenotype varies strongly and may be grouped into classic lipoid congenital adrenal hyperplasia (LCAH), in which all steroidogenesis is disrupted, and non-classic LCAH, which resembles familial glucocorticoid deficiency (FGD), which affects predominantly adrenal functions. Classic LCAH is characterized by early and potentially life-threatening manifestation of primary adrenal insufficiency (PAI) with electrolyte disturbances and 46,XY disorder of sex development (DSD) in males as well as lack of pubertal development in both sexes. Non-classic LCAH manifests usually later in life with PAI. Nevertheless, life-long follow-up of gonadal function is warranted. We describe a 26-year-old female patient who was diagnosed with PAI early in life without detailed diagnostic work-up. At the age of 14 months, she presented with hyperpigmentation, elevated ACTH and low cortisol levels. As her older brother was diagnosed with PAI two years earlier, she was put on hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone replacement therapy before an Addisonian crisis occurred. Upon review of her case in adulthood, consanguinity was noted in the family. Genetic analysis for PAI revealed a homozygous mutation in the STAR gene (c.562C>T, p.Arg188Cys) in both siblings. This mutation has been previously described in non-classic LCAH. This case illustrates that early onset, familial PAI is likely due to autosomal recessive genetic mutations in known genes causing PAI.

Learning points:

  • In childhood-onset PAI, a genetic cause is most likely, especially in families with consanguinity.

  • Adult patients with an etiologically unsolved PAI should be reviewed repeatedly and genetic work-up should be considered.

  • Knowing the exact genetic diagnosis in PAI is essential for genetic counselling and may allow disease-specific treatment.

  • Young men and women with NCLAH due to homozygous STAR Arg188Cys mutation should be investigated for their gonadal function as hypogonadism and infertility might occur during puberty or in early adulthood.