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Open access

Rachel Wurth, Crystal Kamilaris, Naris Nilubol, Samira M Sadowski, Annabel Berthon, Martha M Quezado, Fabio R Faucz, Constantine A Stratakis and Fady Hannah-Shmouni

Summary

Primary bilateral macronodular adrenal hyperplasia (PBMAH) is a rare cause of ACTH-independent Cushing syndrome (CS). This condition is characterized by glucocorticoid and/or mineralocorticoid excess, and is commonly regulated by aberrant G-protein coupled receptor expression may be subclinical, allowing the disease to progress for years undetected. Inhibin A is a glycoprotein hormone and tumor marker produced by certain endocrine glands including the adrenal cortex, which has not been previously investigated as a potential tumor marker for PBMAH. In the present report, serum inhibin A levels were evaluated in three patients with PBMAH before and after adrenalectomy. In all cases, serum inhibin A was elevated preoperatively and subsequently fell within the normal range after adrenalectomy. Additionally, adrenal tissues stained positive for inhibin A. We conclude that serum inhibin A levels may be a potential tumor marker for PBMAH.

Learning points:

  • PBMAH is a rare cause of CS.
  • PBMAH may have an insidious presentation, allowing the disease to progress for years prior to diagnosis.
  • Inhibin A is a heterodimeric glycoprotein hormone expressed in the gonads and adrenal cortex.
  • Inhibin A serum concentrations are elevated in some patients with PBMAH, suggesting the potential use of this hormone as a tumor marker.
  • Further exploration of serum inhibin A concentration, as it relates to PBMAH disease progression, is warranted to determine if this hormone could serve as an early detection marker and/or predictor of successful surgical treatment.
Open access

Sofia Pilar Ildefonso-Najarro, Esteban Alberto Plasencia-Dueñas, Cesar Joel Benites-Moya, Jose Carrion-Rojas and Marcio Jose Concepción-Zavaleta

Summary

Cushing’s syndrome is an endocrine disorder that causes anovulatory infertility secondary to hypercortisolism; therefore, pregnancy rarely occurs during its course. We present the case of a 24-year-old, 16-week pregnant female with a 10-month history of unintentional weight gain, dorsal gibbus, nonpruritic comedones, hirsutism and hair loss. Initial biochemical, hormonal and ultrasound investigations revealed hypokalemia, increased nocturnal cortisolemia and a right adrenal mass. The patient had persistent high blood pressure, hyperglycemia and hypercortisolemia. She was initially treated with antihypertensive medications and insulin therapy. Endogenous Cushing’s syndrome was confirmed by an abdominal MRI that demonstrated a right adrenal adenoma. The patient underwent right laparoscopic adrenalectomy and anatomopathological examination revealed an adrenal adenoma with areas of oncocytic changes. Finally, antihypertensive medication was progressively reduced and glycemic control and hypokalemia reversal were achieved. Long-term therapy consisted of low-dose daily prednisone. During follow-up, despite favorable outcomes regarding the patient’s Cushing’s syndrome, stillbirth was confirmed at 28 weeks of pregnancy. We discuss the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of Cushing’s syndrome to prevent severe maternal and fetal complications.

Learning points:

  • Pregnancy can occur, though rarely, during the course of Cushing’s syndrome.
  • Pregnancy is a transient physiological state of hypercortisolism and it must be differentiated from Cushing’s syndrome based on clinical manifestations and laboratory tests.
  • The diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome during pregnancy may be challenging, particularly in the second and third trimesters because of the changes in the maternal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
  • Pregnancy during the course of Cushing’s syndrome is associated with severe maternal and fetal complications; therefore, its early diagnosis and treatment is critical.
Open access

Diana Catarino, Cristina Ribeiro, Leonor Gomes and Isabel Paiva

Summary

Pituitary infections, particularly with fungus, are rare disorders that usually occur in immunocompromised patients. Cushing’s syndrome predisposes patients to infectious diseases due to their immunosuppression status. We report the case of a 55-year-old woman, working as a poultry farmer, who developed intense headache, palpebral ptosis, anisocoria, prostration and psychomotor agitation 9 months after initial diabetes mellitus diagnosis. Cranioencephalic CT scan showed a pituitary lesion with bleeding, suggesting pituitary apoplexy. Patient underwent transsphenoidal surgery and the neuropathologic study indicated a corticotroph adenoma with apoplexy and fungal infection. Patient had no preoperative Cushing’s syndrome diagnosis. She was evaluated by a multidisciplinary team who decided not to administer anti-fungal treatment. The reported case shows a rare association between a corticotroph adenoma and a pituitary fungal infection. The possible contributing factors were hypercortisolism, uncontrolled diabetes and professional activity. Transsphenoidal surgery is advocated in these infections; however, anti-fungal therapy is still controversial.

Learning points:

  • Pituitary infections are rare disorders caused by bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic infections.
  • Pituitary fungal infections usually occur in immunocompromised patients.
  • Cushing’s syndrome, as immunosuppression factor, predisposes patients to infectious diseases, including fungal infections.
  • Diagnosis of pituitary fungal infection is often achieved during histopathological investigation.
  • Treatment with systemic anti-fungal drugs is controversial.
  • Endocrine evaluation is recommended at the time of initial presentation of pituitary manifestations.
Open access

Shamaila Zaman, Bijal Patel, Paul Glynne, Mark Vanderpump, Ali Alsafi, Sairah Khan, Rashpal Flora, Fausto Palazzo and Florian Wernig

Summary

Ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) production is an uncommon cause of Cushing’s syndrome and, rarely, the source can be a phaeochromocytoma. A 55-year-old man presented following an episode of presumed gastroenteritis with vomiting and general malaise. Further episodes of diarrhoea, joint pains and palpitations followed. On examination, he was hypertensive with no clinical features to suggest hypercortisolaemia. He was subsequently found to have raised plasma normetanephrines of 3.98 nmol/L (NR <0.71) and metanephrines of 0.69 nmol/L (NR <0.36). An adrenal CT showed a 3.8 cm right adrenal nodule, which was not MIBG-avid but was clinically and biochemically consistent with a phaeochromocytoma. He was started on alpha blockade and referred for right adrenalectomy. Four weeks later, on the day of admission for adrenalectomy, profound hypokalaemia was noted (serum potassium 2.0 mmol/L) with non-specific ST-segment ECG changes. He was also diagnosed with new-onset diabetes mellitus (capillary blood glucose of 28 mmol/L). He reported to have gained weight and his skin had become darker over the course of the last 4 weeks. Given these findings, he underwent overnight dexamethasone suppression testing, which showed a non-suppressed serum cortisol of 1099 nmol/L. Baseline serum ACTH was 273 ng/L. A preliminary diagnosis of ectopic ACTH secretion from the known right-sided phaeochromocytoma was made and he was started on metyrapone and insulin. Surgery was postponed for 4 weeks. Following uncomplicated laparoscopic adrenalectomy, the patient recovered with full resolution of symptoms.

Learning points:

  • Phaeochromocytomas are a rare source of ectopic ACTH secretion. A high clinical index of suspicion is therefore required to make the diagnosis.
  • Ectopic ACTH secretion from a phaeochromocytoma can rapidly progress to severe Cushing’s syndrome, thus complicating tumour removal.
  • Removal of the primary tumour often leads to full recovery.
  • The limited literature suggests that the presence of ectopic Cushing’s syndrome does not appear to have any long-term prognostic implications.
Open access

Alessandro Rossini, Francesca Perticone, Laura Frosio, Marco Schiavo Lena and Roberto Lanzi

Summary

ACTH-secreting pheochromocytoma is a very rare cause of Cushing’s syndrome, with a high morbidity and mortality risk due to both cortisol and catecholamines excess. We report the case of a 45-year-old female patient with a 3 cm, high-density, left adrenal mass, diagnosed as an ACTH-secreting pheochromocytoma. The biochemical sensitivity of the tumor to somatostatin analogues was tested by a 100 μg s.c. octreotide administration, which led to an ACTH and cortisol reduction of 50 and 25% respectively. In addition to alpha and beta blockers, preoperative approach to laparoscopic adrenalectomy included octreotide, a somatostatin analogue, together with ketoconazole, in order to achieve an adequate pre-surgical control of cortisol release. Histopathological assessment confirmed an ACTH-secreting pheochromocytoma expressing type 2 and 5 somatostatin receptors (SSTR-2 and -5).

Learning points:

  • ACTH-secreting pheochromocytomas represent a rare and severe condition, characterized by high morbidity and mortality risk.
  • Surgical removal of the adrenal mass is the gold standard treatment, but adequate medical therapy is required preoperatively to improve the surgical outcome and to avoid major complications.
  • Somatostatin analogs, in addition to other medications, may represent a useful therapeutic option for the presurgical management of selected patients.
  • In this sense, the octreotide challenge test is a useful tool to predict favorable therapeutic response to the treatment.
Open access

Katta Sai, Amos Lal, Jhansi Lakshmi Maradana, Pruthvi Raj Velamala and Trivedi Nitin

Summary

Mifepristone is a promising option for the management of hypercortisolism associated with hyperglycemia. However, its use may result in serious electrolyte imbalances, especially during dose escalation. In our patient with adrenocorticotropic hormone-independent macro-nodular adrenal hyperplasia, unilateral adrenalectomy resulted in biochemical and clinical improvement, but subclinical hypercortisolism persisted following adrenalectomy. She was started on mifepristone. Unfortunately, she missed her follow-up appointments following dosage escalation and required hospitalization at an intensive care level for severe refractory hypokalemia.

Learning points:

  • Mifepristone, a potent antagonist of glucocorticoid receptors, has a high risk of adrenal insufficiency, despite high cortisol levels.
  • Mifepristone is associated with hypokalemia due to spill-over effect of cortisol on unopposed mineralocorticoid receptors.
  • Given the lack of a biochemical parameter to assess improvement, the dosing of mifepristone is based on clinical progress.
  • Patients on mifepristone require anticipation of toxicity, especially when the dose is escalated.
  • The half-life of mifepristone is 85 h, requiring prolonged monitoring for toxicity, even after the medication is held.
Open access

Sharmin Jahan, M A Hasanat, Tahseen Mahmood, Shahed Morshed, Raziul Haq and Md Fariduddin

Summary

Silent corticotroph adenoma (SCA) is an unusual type of nonfunctioning pituitary adenoma (NFA) that is silent both clinically and biochemically and can only be recognized by positive immunostaining for ACTH. Under rare circumstances, it can transform into hormonally active disease presenting with severe Cushing syndrome. It might often produce diagnostic dilemma with difficult management issue if not thoroughly investigated and subtyped accordingly following surgery. Here, we present a 21-year-old male who initially underwent pituitary adenomectomy for presumed NFA with compressive symptoms. However, he developed recurrent and invasive macroadenoma with severe clinical as well as biochemical hypercortisolism during post-surgical follow-up. Repeat pituitary surgery was carried out urgently as there was significant optic chiasmal compression. Immunohistochemical analysis of the tumor tissue obtained on repeat surgery proved it to be an aggressive corticotroph adenoma. Though not cured, he showed marked clinical and biochemical improvement in the immediate postoperative period. Anticipating recurrence from the residual tumor, we referred him for cyber knife radio surgery.

Learning points:

  • Pituitary NFA commonly present with compressive symptoms such as headache and blurred vision.
  • Post-surgical development of Cushing syndrome in such a case could be either drug induced or endogenous.
  • In the presence of recurrent pituitary tumor, ACTH-dependent Cushing syndrome indicates CD.
  • Rarely a SCA presenting initially as NFA can transform into an active corticotroph adenoma.
  • Immunohistochemical marker for ACTH in the resected tumor confirms the diagnosis.
Open access

Wei Yang, David Pham, Aren T Vierra, Sarah Azam, Dorina Gui and John C Yoon

Summary

Ectopic ACTH-secreting pulmonary neuroendocrine tumors are rare and account for less than 5% of endogenous Cushing’s syndrome cases. We describe an unusual case of metastatic bronchial carcinoid tumor in a young woman presenting with unprovoked pulmonary emboli, which initially prevented the detection of the primary tumor on imaging. The source of ectopic ACTH was ultimately localized by a Gallium-DOTATATE scan, which demonstrated increased tracer uptake in a right middle lobe lung nodule and multiple liver nodules. The histological diagnosis was established based on a core biopsy of a hepatic lesion and the patient was started on a glucocorticoid receptor antagonist and a somatostatin analog. This case illustrates that hypercogulability can further aggravate the diagnostic challenges in ectopic ACTH syndrome. We discuss the literature on the current diagnosis and management strategies for ectopic ACTH syndrome.

Learning points:

  • In a young patient with concurrent hypokalemia and uncontrolled hypertension on multiple antihypertensive agents, secondary causes of hypertension should be evaluated.
  • Patients with Cushing’s syndrome can develop an acquired hypercoagulable state leading to spontaneous and postoperative venous thromboembolism.
  • Pulmonary emboli may complicate the imaging of the bronchial carcinoid tumor in ectopic ACTH syndrome.
  • Imaging with Gallium-68 DOTATATE PET/CT scan has the highest sensitivity and specificity in detecting ectopic ACTH-secreting tumors.
  • A combination of various noninvasive biochemical tests can enhance the diagnostic accuracy in differentiating Cushing’s disease from ectopic ACTH syndrome provided they have concordant results. Bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling remains the gold standard.
Open access

Teresa M Canteros, Valeria De Miguel and Patricia Fainstein-Day

Summary

Severe Cushing syndrome (SCS) is considered an emergency that requires immediate treatment to lower serum cortisol levels. Fluconazole may be considered an alternative treatment in Cushing syndrome when ketoconazole is not tolerated or unavailable. We report a 39-year-old woman with a history of partial pancreaticoduodenectomy due to a periampullary neuroendocrine tumor with locoregional extension. Three years after surgery, she developed liver metastases and was started on 120 mg of lanreotide/month, despite which, liver metastases progressed in the following 6 months. The patient showed extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, delirium, moon face, hirsutism and severe proximal weakness. Laboratory tests showed anemia, hyperglycemia and severe hypokalemia. 24-h urinary free cortisol: 2152 nmol/day (reference range (RR): <276), morning serum cortisol 4883.4 nmol/L (RR: 138–690), ACTH 127.3 pmol/L (RR: 2.2–10). She was diagnosed with ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS). On admission, she presented with acute upper gastrointestinal tract bleeding and hemodynamic instability. Intravenous fluconazole 400 mg/day was started. After 48 h, her mental state improved and morning cortisol decreased by 25%. The dose was titrated to 600 mg/day which resulted in a 55% decrease in cortisol levels in 1 week, but then had to be decreased to 400 mg/day because transaminase levels increased over 3 times the upper normal level. After 18 days of treatment, hemodynamic stability, lower cortisol levels and better overall clinical status enabled successful bilateral adrenalectomy. This case report shows that intravenous fluconazole effectively decreased cortisol levels in SCS due to EAS.

Learning points:

  • Severe Cushing syndrome can be effectively treated with fluconazole to achieve a significant improvement of hypercortisolism prior to bilateral adrenalectomy.
  • Intravenous fluconazole is an alternative treatment when ketoconazole is not tolerated and etomidate is not available.
  • Fluconazole is well tolerated with mild side effects. Hepatotoxicity is usually mild and resolves after drug discontinuation.
Open access

Catherine D Zhang, Pavel N Pichurin, Aleh Bobr, Melanie L Lyden, William F Young Jr and Irina Bancos

Summary

Carney complex (CNC) is a rare multiple neoplasia syndrome characterized by spotty pigmentation of the skin and mucosa in association with various non-endocrine and endocrine tumors, including primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD). A 20-year-old woman was referred for suspected Cushing syndrome. She had signs of cortisol excess as well as skin lentigines on physical examination. Biochemical investigation was suggestive of corticotropin (ACTH)-independent Cushing syndrome. Unenhanced computed tomography scan of the abdomen did not reveal an obvious adrenal mass. She subsequently underwent bilateral laparoscopic adrenalectomy, and histopathology was consistent with PPNAD. Genetic testing revealed a novel frameshift pathogenic variant c.488delC/p.Thr163MetfsX2 (ClinVar Variation ID: 424516) in the PRKAR1A gene, consistent with clinical suspicion for CNC. Evaluation for other clinical features of the complex was unrevealing. We present a case of PPNAD-associated Cushing syndrome leading to the diagnosis of CNC due to a novel PRKAR1A pathogenic variant.

Learning points:

  • PPNAD should be considered in the differential for ACTH-independent Cushing syndrome, especially when adrenal imaging appears normal.
  • The diagnosis of PPNAD should prompt screening for CNC.
  • CNC is a rare multiple neoplasia syndrome caused by inactivating pathogenic variants in the PRKAR1A gene.
  • Timely diagnosis of CNC and careful surveillance can help prevent potentially fatal complications of the disease.