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Open access

Regina Streuli, Ina Krull, Michael Brändle, Walter Kolb, Günter Stalla, Marily Theodoropoulou, Annette Enzler-Tschudy and Stefan Bilz

Summary

Ectopic ACTH/CRH co-secreting tumors are a very rare cause of Cushing’s syndrome and only a few cases have been reported in the literature. Differentiating between Cushing’s disease and ectopic Cushing’s syndrome may be particularly difficult if predominant ectopic CRH secretion leads to pituitary corticotroph hyperplasia that may mimic Cushing’s disease during dynamic testing with both dexamethasone and CRH as well as bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling (BIPSS). We present the case of a 24-year-old man diagnosed with ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome caused by an ACTH/CRH co-secreting midgut NET. Both high-dose dexamethasone testing and BIPSS suggested Cushing’s disease. However, the clinical presentation with a rather rapid onset of cushingoid features, hyperpigmentation and hypokalemia led to the consideration of ectopic ACTH/CRH-secretion and prompted a further workup. Computed tomography (CT) of the abdomen revealed a cecal mass which was identified as a predominantly CRH-secreting neuroendocrine tumor. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first reported case of an ACTH/CRH co-secreting tumor of the cecum presenting with biochemical features suggestive of Cushing’s disease.

Learning points:

  • The discrimination between a Cushing’s disease and ectopic Cushing’s syndrome is challenging and has many caveats.

  • Ectopic ACTH/CRH co-secreting tumors are very rare.

  • Dynamic tests as well as BIPSS may be compatible with Cushing’s disease in ectopic CRH-secretion.

  • High levels of CRH may induce hyperplasia of the corticotroph cells in the pituitary. This could be the cause of a preserved pituitary response to dexamethasone and CRH.

  • Clinical features of ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism with rapid development of Cushing’s syndrome, hyperpigmentation, high circulating levels of cortisol with associated hypokalemia, peripheral edema and proximal myopathy should be a warning flag of ectopic Cushing’s syndrome and lead to further investigations.

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

Takuma Hara, Hiroyoshi Akutsu, Tetsuya Yamamoto, Eiichi Ishikawa, Masahide Matsuda and Akira Matsumura

Summary

Gastrointestinal perforation is a complication associated with steroid therapy or hypercortisolism, but it is rarely observed in patients with Cushing's disease in clinical practice, and only one case has been reported as a presenting symptom. Herein, we report a rare case of Cushing's disease in which a patient presented with gastrointestinal perforation as a symptom. A 79-year-old man complained of discomfort in the lower abdomen for 6 months. Based on the endocrinological and gastroenterological examinations, he was diagnosed with Cushing's disease with a perforation of the descending colon. After consultation with a gastroenterological surgeon, it was decided that colonic perforation could be conservatively observed without any oral intake and treated with parenteral administration of antibiotics because of the mild systemic inflammation and lack of abdominal guarding. Despite the marked elevated levels of serum cortisol, oral medication was not an option because of colonic perforation. Therefore, the patient was submitted to endonasal adenomectomy to normalize the levels of serum cortisol. Subsequently, a colostomy was successfully performed. Despite its rarity, physicians should be aware that gastrointestinal perforation may be associated with hypercortisolism, especially in elderly patients, and immediate diagnosis and treatment of this life-threatening condition are essential. If a perforation can be conservatively observed, endonasal adenomectomy prior to laparotomy is an alternative treatment option for hypercortisolism.

Learning points

  • Thus far, only one case of gastrointestinal perforation as a presenting clinical symptom of Cushing's disease has been reported.

  • Physicians should be aware that gastrointestinal perforation might be associated with hypercortisolism in elderly patients because elevated levels of serum cortisol may mask the clinical signs of perforation. Because of this masking effect, the diagnosis of the perforation also tends to be delayed.

  • Although parenteral administration of etomidate is a standard treatment option for decreasing the elevated levels of serum cortisol, endonasal adenomectomy prior to laparotomy is an alternative treatment option if etomidate therapy is unavailable.

Open access

Rajesh Rajendran, Sarita Naik, Derek D Sandeman and Azraai B Nasruddin

Summary

We report the use of pasireotide in a rare and unusual case of pituitary macroadenoma co-secreting GH, prolactin and ACTH. A 62-year-old Caucasian man presented with impotence. Clinically, he appeared acromegalic and subsequent investigations confirmed GH excess and hyperprolactinaemia. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of pituitary revealed a large pituitary macroadenoma. He underwent trans-sphenoidal surgery and histology confirmed an adenoma with immunohistochemistry positive for ACTH, GH and prolactin. Acromegaly was not cured following surgery and inadequately controlled despite subsequent octreotide therapy. He underwent further debulking pituitary surgery, following which IGF1 levels improved but still high. This time adenoma cells showed immunohistochemistry positivity for ACTH only, following which subsequent investigations confirmed intermittent hypercortisolaemia compatible with pituitary Cushing's disease. We recommended radiotherapy, but in view of the pluripotential nature of the tumour, we proceeded with a trial of s.c. pasireotide therapy on the basis that it may control both his acromegaly and Cushing's disease. After 3 months of pasireotide therapy, his mean GH and IGF1 levels improved significantly, with improvement in his symptoms but intermittent hypercortisolaemia persists. His glycaemic control deteriorated requiring addition of new anti-diabetic medication. MRI imaging showed loss of contrast uptake within the tumour following pasireotide therapy but no change in size. We conclude that our patient has had a partial response to pasireotide therapy. Long-term follow-up studies are needed to establish its safety and efficacy in patients with acromegaly and/or Cushing's disease.

Learning points

  • Plurihormonal pituitary adenomas are rare and unusual.

  • Patients with pituitary adenomas co-secreting ACTH and GH are more likely to present with acromegaly because GH excess can mask hypercortisolaemia.

  • Pasireotide holds potential where conventional somatostatin analogues are not effective in acromegaly due to higher affinity for somatostatin receptor subtypes 1, 2, 3 and 5.

  • Significant deterioration in glycaemic control remains a concern in the use of pasireotide.

  • Currently, long-term safety and efficacy of pasireotide in patients with acromegaly and/or Cushing's disease are not fully clear.