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Open access

Alicia R Jones, Alan McNeil, Christopher Yates, Bala Krishnamurthy and Peter S Hamblin

Summary

A variety of neoplastic, inflammatory and congenital conditions can cause pituitary stalk thickening. Differentiating between these causes is important as targeted treatment may be offered. Diagnostic work-up consists of a thorough history, examination, biochemical analysis and imaging. We present the case of a 33-year-old male who presented with diabetes insipidus and had pituitary stalk thickening on magnetic resonance imaging. Further investigations revealed an elevated CSF βhCG, which raised the possibility of an intracranial germ cell tumor. However, when repeated on four different assays, the βhCG levels were discordant. On serial imaging, the pituitary stalk thickening reduced slightly, which would be unexpected for a germ cell tumor. This case raises the difficulties interpreting CSF βhCG, as not all immunoassays for βhCG have been validated for use in CSF. The Roche Diagnostics Elecsys and Siemens Centaur assays have been validated for CSF βhCG, and so we advocate using one of these methods. If unavailable or serum/CSF results are ambiguous, serial MRI is appropriate, with pituitary stalk biopsy considered if the stalk measures >6.5 mm or other imaging abnormalities are present.

Learning points:

  • Most adult patients with central diabetes insipidus have imaging abnormalities on a pituitary MRI. The most common abnormalities are loss of the posterior pituitary bright spot and pituitary stalk thickening, both of which are non-specific.

  • Causes of pituitary stalk thickening include neoplastic, inflammatory, infective and congenital lesions.

  • Investigation of pituitary stalk thickening should encompass the many possible causes and include biochemical analyses as well as imaging of the chest, abdomen and pelvis. Further investigations should be guided by the clinical context, but may include testicular ultrasound, CSF analysis and pituitary stalk biopsy.

  • Germ cell tumors involving the pituitary stalk may be suspected on clinical grounds, but in the absence of a tissue diagnosis (biopsy) confirmation may be difficult and relies on biochemical assessment of blood and possibly CSF as well as serial MRI imaging.

  • CSF βhCG levels should be analyzed on an instrument validated for use in CSF or on multiple instruments, and the pitfalls of testing this marker (false negative in some germ cell tumors, false positives in other conditions, lack of internationally agreed reference ranges for diagnosing germ cell tumors) should be considered when interpreting the results.

Open access

Raluca Maria Furnica, Julie Lelotte, Thierry Duprez, Dominique Maiter and Orsalia Alexopoulou

Summary

A 26-year-old woman presented with severe postpartum headaches. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed a symmetric, heterogeneous enlargement of the pituitary gland. Three months later, she developed central diabetes insipidus. A diagnosis of postpartum hypophysitis was suspected and corticosteroids were prescribed. Six months later, the pituitary mass showed further enlargement and characteristics of a necrotic abscess with a peripheral shell and infiltration of the hypothalamus. Transsphenoidal surgery was performed, disclosing a pus-filled cavity which was drained. No bacterial growth was observed, except a single positive blood culture for Staphylococcus aureus, considered at that time as a potential contaminant. A short antibiotic course was, however, administered together with hormonal substitution for panhypopituitarism. Four months after her discharge, severe headaches recurred. Pituitary MRI was suggestive of a persistent inflammatory mass of the sellar region. She underwent a new transsphenoidal resection of a residual abscess. At that time, the sellar aspiration fluid was positive for Staphylococcus aureus and she was treated with antibiotics for 6 weeks, after which she had complete resolution of her infection. The possibility of a pituitary abscess, although rare, should be kept in mind during evaluation for a necrotic inflammatory pituitary mass with severe headaches and hormonal deficiencies.

Learning points:

  • The possibility of a pituitary abscess, although rare, should be kept in mind during evaluation for a necrotic inflammatory pituitary mass with severe headaches and hormonal deficiencies.

  • In a significant proportion of cases no pathogenic organism can be isolated.

  • A close follow-up is necessary given the risk of recurrence and the high rate of postoperative pituitary deficiencies.

Open access

Nikolaos Kyriakakis, Jacqueline Trouillas, Mary N Dang, Julie Lynch, Paul Belchetz, Márta Korbonits and Robert D Murray

Summary

A male patient presented at the age of 30 with classic clinical features of acromegaly and was found to have elevated growth hormone levels, not suppressing during an oral glucose tolerance test. His acromegaly was originally considered to be of pituitary origin, based on a CT scan, which was interpreted as showing a pituitary macroadenoma. Despite two trans-sphenoidal surgeries, cranial radiotherapy and periods of treatment with bromocriptine and octreotide, his acromegaly remained active clinically and biochemically. A lung mass was discovered incidentally on a chest X-ray performed as part of a routine pre-assessment for spinal surgery 5 years following the initial presentation. This was confirmed to be a bronchial carcinoid tumour, which was strongly positive for growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) and somatostatin receptor type 2 by immunohistochemistry. The re-examination of the pituitary specimens asserted the diagnosis of pituitary GH hyperplasia. Complete resolution of the patient’s acromegaly was achieved following right lower and middle lobectomy. Seventeen years following the successful resection of the bronchial carcinoid tumour the patient remains under annual endocrine follow-up for monitoring of the hypopituitarism he developed after the original interventions to his pituitary gland, while there has been no evidence of active acromegaly or recurrence of the carcinoid tumour. Ectopic acromegaly is extremely rare, accounting for <1% of all cases of acromegaly. Our case highlights the diagnostic challenges differentiating between ectopic acromegaly and acromegaly of pituitary origin and emphasises the importance of avoiding unnecessary pituitary surgery and radiotherapy. The role of laboratory investigations, imaging and histology as diagnostic tools is discussed.

Learning points:

  • Ectopic acromegaly is rare, accounting for less than 1% of all cases of acromegaly.

  • Ectopic acromegaly is almost always due to extra-pituitary GHRH secretion, mainly from neuroendocrine tumours of pancreatic or bronchial origin.

  • Differentiating between acromegaly of pituitary origin and ectopic acromegaly can cause diagnostic challenges due to similarities in clinical presentation and biochemistry.

  • Serum GHRH can be a useful diagnostic tool to diagnose ectopic acromegaly.

  • Pituitary imaging is crucial to differentiate between a pituitary adenoma and pituitary hyperplasia, which is a common finding in ectopic acromegaly.

  • Diagnosing ectopic acromegaly is pivotal to avoid unnecessary interventions to the pituitary and preserve normal pituitary function.

Open access

Nicole Maison, Esther Korpershoek, Graeme Eisenhofer, Mercedes Robledo, Ronald de Krijger and Felix Beuschlein

Summary

Pheochromocytomas (PCC) and paraganglioma (PGL) are rare neuroendocrine tumors arising from chromaffin cells of the neural crest. Mutations in the RET-proto-oncogene are associated with sporadic pheochromocytoma, familial or sporadic medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) and multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2. In the past, only few cases of pigmented PCCs, PGLs, and one case of pigmented MTC have been reported in the literature. Herein, we present the case of a 77-year old woman with a history of Tako-tsubo-cardiomyopathy and laboratory, as well as radiological, high suspicion of pheochromocytoma, who underwent left-sided adrenalectomy. The 3 cm tumor, which was located on the upper pole of the left adrenal, appeared highly pigmented with dark red to black color. Histologic examinations revealed highly pleomorphic cells with bizarre, huge hyperchromatic nuclei, that immunohistochemically were positive for chromogranin A and synaptophysin, focally positive for HMB45 and negative for melan A. These clinical and pathological features led to the diagnosis of the rare variant of a melanotic ‘black’ pheochromocytoma. In our case a somatic RET mutation in exon 16 (RET c.2753T>C, p.Met918Thy) was detected by targeted next generation sequencing. In summary, this case represents a rare variant of catecholamine-producing tumor with distinct histological features. A potential relationship between the phenotype, the cellular origin and the genetic alterations is discussed.

Learning points

  • Pheochromocytoma is a rare neuroendocrine tumor.

  • Pigmentation is seen in several types of tumors arising from the neural crest. The macroscopic black aspect can mislead to the diagnosis of a metastasis deriving from a malignant melanoma.

  • RET mutation are seen in catecholamine and non-catecholamine producing tumors of the same cellular origin.

Open access

C P Neves, E T Massolt, R P Peeters, S J Neggers and W W de Herder

Summary

A 21-year-old woman presented with amenorrhea, bilateral galactorrhea and fatigue. Visual acuity and visual fields were normal. Laboratory examination demonstrated hyperprolactinemia. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the pituitary showed a 19×17×12-mm sellar mass with supra- and parasellar extension, causing compression of the pituitary stalk and optic chiasm. Further examinations confirmed mild hyperprolactinemia, strongly elevated TSH (>500 mU/l), low free thyroxine (FT4), hypogonadotropic hypogonadism and secondary adrenal insufficiency. Hydrocortisone and l-T4 replacement therapy was started. Three months later, the galactorrhea had disappeared, thyroid function was normalized and MRI revealed regression of the pituitary enlargement, confirming the diagnosis of pituitary hyperplasia (PH) due to primary hypothyroidism. Subsequently, the menstrual cycle returned and the hypocortisolism normalized. This case demonstrates that severe primary hypothyroidism may have an unusual presentation and should be considered in the differential diagnosis of pituitary enlargement associated with moderate hyperprolactinemia.

Learning points

  • One should always try to find one etiology as the common cause of all the clinical findings in a pathologic process.

  • Amenorrhea, galactorrhea and fatigue may be the only presenting clinical manifestations of primary hypothyroidism.

  • Not every patient with galactorrhea, hyperprolactinemia and a pituitary mass has a prolactinoma.

  • Primary hypothyroidism should always be considered in the differential diagnosis of hyperprolactinemia associated with pituitary enlargement and pituitary hormone(s) deficiency(ies).

  • When PH due to primary hypothyroidism is suspected, thyroid hormone replacement should be started and only regression of pituitary enlargement on MRI follow-up can confirm the diagnosis.

  • Examination of thyroid function in patients with a pituitary mass may avoid unnecessary surgery.

Open access

W C Candy Sze, Joe McQuillan, P Nicholas Plowman, Niall MacDougall, Philip Blackburn, H Ian Sabin, Nadeem Ali and William M Drake

Summary

We report three patients who developed symptoms and signs of ocular neuromyotonia (ONM) 3–6 months after receiving gamma knife radiosurgery (GKS) for functioning pituitary tumours. All three patients were complex, requiring multi-modality therapy and all had received prior external irradiation to the sellar region. Although direct causality cannot be attributed, the timing of the development of the symptoms would suggest that the GKS played a contributory role in the development of this rare problem, which we suggest clinicians should be aware of as a potential complication.

Learning points

  • GKS can cause ONM, presenting as intermittent diplopia.

  • ONM can occur quite rapidly after treatment with GKS.

  • Treatment with carbamazepine is effective and improve patient's quality of life.

Open access

Sunita M C De Sousa, Peter Earls and Ann I McCormack

Summary

Pituitary hyperplasia (PH) occurs in heterogeneous settings and remains under-recognised. Increased awareness of this condition and its natural history should circumvent unnecessary trans-sphenoidal surgery. We performed an observational case series of patients referred to a single endocrinologist over a 3-year period. Four young women were identified with PH manifesting as diffuse, symmetrical pituitary enlargement near or touching the optic apparatus on MRI. The first woman presented with primary hypothyroidism and likely had thyrotroph hyperplasia given prompt resolution with thyroxine. The second and third women were diagnosed with pathological gonadotroph hyperplasia due to primary gonadal insufficiency, with histopathological confirmation including gonadal-deficiency cells in the third case where surgery could have been avoided. The fourth woman likely had idiopathic PH, though she had concomitant polycystic ovary syndrome which is a debated cause of PH. Patients suspected of PH should undergo comprehensive hormonal, radiological and sometimes ophthalmological evaluation. This is best conducted by a specialised multidisciplinary team with preference for treatment of underlying conditions and close monitoring over surgical intervention.

Learning points

  • Normal pituitary dimensions are influenced by age and gender with the greatest pituitary heights seen in young adults and perimenopausal women.

  • Pituitary enlargement may be seen in the settings of pregnancy, end-organ insufficiency with loss of negative feedback, and excess trophic hormone from the hypothalamus or neuroendocrine tumours.

  • PH may be caused or exacerbated by medications including oestrogen, GNRH analogues and antipsychotics.

  • Management involves identification of cases of idiopathic PH suitable for simple surveillance and reversal of pathological or iatrogenic causes where they exist.

  • Surgery should be avoided in PH as it rarely progresses.