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Open access

Isabella Lupi, Alessandro Brancatella, Mirco Cosottini, Nicola Viola, Giulia Lanzolla, Daniele Sgrò, Giulia Di Dalmazi, Francesco Latrofa, Patrizio Caturegli and Claudio Marcocci

Summary

Programmed cell death protein 1/programmed cell death protein ligand 1 (PD-1/PD-L1) and cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4/B7 (CTLA-4/B7) pathways are key regulators in T-cell activation and tolerance. Nivolumab, pembrolizumab (PD-1 inhibitors), atezolizumab (PD-L1 inhibitor) and ipilimumab (CTLA-4 inhibitor) are monoclonal antibodies approved for treatment of several advanced cancers. Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs)-related hypophysitis is described more frequently in patients treated with anti-CTLA-4; however, recent studies reported an increasing prevalence of anti-PD-1/PD-L1-induced hypophysitis which also exhibits slightly different clinical features. We report our experience on hypophysitis induced by anti-PD-1/anti-PD-L1 treatment. We present four cases, diagnosed in the past 12 months, of hypophysitis occurring in two patients receiving anti-PD-1, in one patient receiving anti-PD-1 and anti-CTLA-4 combined therapy and in one patient receiving anti-PD-L1. In this case series, timing, clinical presentation and association with other immune-related adverse events appeared to be extremely variable; central hypoadrenalism and hyponatremia were constantly detected although sellar magnetic resonance imaging did not reveal specific signs of pituitary inflammation. These differences highlight the complexity of ICI-related hypophysitis and the existence of different mechanisms of action leading to heterogeneity of clinical presentation in patients receiving immunotherapy.

Learning points:

  • PD-1/PD-L1 blockade can induce hypophysitis with a different clinical presentation when compared to CTLA-4 blockade.

  • Diagnosis of PD-1/PD-L1 induced hypophysitis is mainly made on clinical grounds and sellar MRI does not show radiological abnormalities.

  • Hyponatremia due to acute secondary adrenal insufficiency is often the principal sign of PD-1/PD-L1-induced hypophysitis and can be masked by other symptoms due to oncologic disease.

  • PD-1/PD-L1-induced hypophysitis can present as an isolated manifestation of irAEs or be in association with other autoimmune diseases

Open access

Yew Wen Yap, Steve Ball and Zubair Qureshi

Summary

The coexistence of primary hypothyroidism and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)-stimulating pituitary macroadenoma can be a rare occurrence and can make diagnosis very challenging. We describe a case of a 44-year-old female with a history of fatigue, poor concentration, weight gain and amenorrhoea together with biochemical evidence of primary autoimmune hypothyroidism. Her initial TSH levels were elevated with low normal free thyroxine (T4) levels. Levothyroxine treatment was initiated and the dose was gradually titrated to supraphysiologic doses. This led to the normalisation of her TSH levels but her free T4 and triiodothyronine (T3) levels remained persistently elevated. This prompted a serum prolactin check which returned elevated at 2495 µ/L, leading onto pituitary imaging. A MRI of the pituitary gland revealed a pituitary macroadenoma measuring 2.4 × 2 × 1.6 cm. Despite starting her on cabergoline therapy with a reduction in her prolactin levels, her TSH levels began to rise even further. Additional thyroid assays revealed that she had an abnormally elevated alpha subunit at 3.95 (age-related reference range <3.00). This corresponded to a thyroid-secreting hormone pituitary macroadenoma. She went on to have a transphenoidal hypophysectomy. Histology revealed tissues staining for TSH, confirming this to be a TSH-secreting pituitary macroadenoma. This case highlighted the importance of further investigations with thyroid assay interferences, heterophile antibodies, alpha subunit testing and anterior pituitary profile in cases of resistant and non-resolving primary hypothyroidism.

Learning points:

  • Levothyroxine treatment in primary hypothyroidism can potentially unmask the presence of a latent TSH-secreting pituitary macroadenoma, which can make diagnosis very challenging.

  • A high index of suspicion should prompt clinicians to further investigate cases of primary hypothyroidism which despite increasing doses of levothyroxine treatment with normalisation of TSH, the free T4 and T3 levels remain persistently elevated.

  • Clinicians should consider investigating for adherence to levothyroxine, thyroid assay interference, heterophile antibodies, TSH dilution studies, alpha subunit and anterior pituitary profile testing to further clarity the diagnosis in these patients.

  • Although coexistent cases of TSHoma with primary hypothyroidism are rare, it should always be in the list of differential diagnoses in cases of unresolving primary hypothyroidism.

Open access

Shunsuke Funazaki, Hodaka Yamada, Kazuo Hara and San-e Ishikawa

Summary

Lymphocytic hypophysitis (LyH) has been known to be associated with pregnancy. We herein report the case of a 33-year-old woman who underwent vaginal delivery without massive bleeding at 40 weeks of gestation. Because of the presence of headache and terrible fatigue after childbirth, she visited our hospital. Severe hyponatremia (Na, 118 mEq/L) and visual field abnormality was noted upon examination. MRI revealed pituitary enlargement with a swollen pituitary stalk, albeit at low signal intensity. Basal pituitary hormone levels were all reduced and remained low after exogenous administration of hypothalamic-releasing hormones. She was diagnosed with LyH and was started on prednisolone 60 mg/day. A month later, her pituitary function had gradually improved together with a decrease in pituitary enlargement and recovery of her visual field. The dose of prednisolone was gradually reduced and finally withdrawn 27 months later. After prednisolone withdrawal, her pituitary function remained normal despite the absence of any hormonal replacement. A year later, she became pregnant without medication and delivered a second baby without LyH recurrence. Thereafter, her pituitary function has been normal for more than 5 years. Two valuable observations can be highlighted from the case. First, the patient completely recovered from LyH through prompt prednisolone therapy during its initial phase and had almost normal pituitary function. Second, after recovery from LyH, she was able to undergo spontaneous pregnancy and deliver a baby. We believe that reporting incidences of spontaneous pregnancy after complete normalization of pituitary function in patients with LyH is of great significance.

Learning points:

  • Females are more affected by LyH than males given its strong association with pregnancy.

  • LyH possesses characteristic findings on pituitary MRI.

  • Glucocorticoid therapy for LyH has been recommended as an effective treatment.

  • A history of previous pregnancies does not increase the risk of developing AH in subsequent pregnancies.

  • Early induction of high-dose prednisolone was therapeutically effective in treating LyH.

Open access

Despoina Manousaki, Cheri Deal, Jean Jacques De Bruycker, Philippe Ovetchkine, Claude Mercier and Nathalie Alos

Summary

Cystic sellar lesions are a rare cause of hypopituitarism and extremely rare in the pediatric age group. The differential diagnosis is large and includes both primary pituitary abscesses and cystic components on pre-existing lesions, such as adenoma, craniopharyngioma, Rathke's cleft cyst, leukemia, granulomatous disease and lymphocytic hypophysitis. In the absence of a definitive diagnosis, treatment can be challenging. We report a case of a 15-year-old female, who presented with headaches, altered consciousness and diplopia after a molar extraction, for which she had received oral antibiotics. Broad-spectrum i.v. antibiotics were given for presumed meningitis. Blood cultures failed to identify pathogens. Cerebral magnetic resonance imaging showed a pituitary cystic lesion. Endocrine studies revealed abnormal pituitary function. In the absence of a therapeutic response, the patient underwent a transsphenoidal biopsy of the pituitary gland, which yielded a purulent liquid, but cultures were negative. Histopathology showed lymphocytic infiltrates but no neutrophils, compatible with an inflammation of autoimmune or infectious origin. High-dose glucocorticoid therapy was started and pursued, along with i.v. antibiotics, for 6 weeks, leading to clinical and radiological improvement but with persistence of endocrine deficits. In conclusion, this is a case of secondary panhypopituitarism due to a cystic pituitary lesion, with a differential diagnosis of lymphocytic hypophysitis vs abscess in a context of decapitated meningitis. Combination therapy with antibiotics and glucocorticoids is a legitimate approach in the face of diagnostic uncertainty, given the morbidity, and even mortality, associated with these lesions.

Learning points

  • It is not always easy to differentiate primary cystic sellar lesions (such as a primary infectious pituitary abscess) from cystic components on pre-existing lesions (such as adenoma, craniopharyngioma, Rathke's cleft cyst, leukemia or lymphocytic hypophysitis).

  • Because of the absence of specific symptoms and of immunohistochemical and serum markers, response to glucocorticoids can be the only way to differentiate lymphocytic hypophysitis from pituitary lesions of another origin. In addition, microbiological cultures are negative in 50% of cases of primary infectious sellar abscesses, thus the response to antibiotic treatment is often the key element to this diagnosis.

  • A short course of high-dose glucocorticoids combined with antibiotics is not harmful in cases where there is no diagnostic certainty as to the origin of a cystic sellar mass, given the morbidity and mortality associated with these lesions.

  • This approach may also diminish inflammation of either infectious or autoimmune origin while ensuring that the most likely pathogens are being targeted.