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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

Judith Gerards, Michael M Ritter, Elke Kaminsky, Andreas Gal, Wolfgang Hoeppner and Marcus Quinkler

Summary

DAX1 (NR0B1) is an orphan nuclear receptor, which plays an important role in development and function of the adrenal glands and gonads. Mutations in DAX1 cause X-linked adrenal hypoplasia congenita (X-linked AHC), which is characterized by adrenal insufficiency (AI) and hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (HHG). Affected boys present with adrenal failure usually in childhood and, later in life, with delayed puberty. However, patients with a late-onset form of X-linked AHC have also been described in the past years. We report a male patient who presented with symptoms of an adrenal crisis at the age of 38 years and was later diagnosed with HHG. Family history was positive with several male relatives diagnosed with AI and compatible with the assumed X-chromosomal inheritance of the trait. Direct sequencing of DAX1 of the patient revealed a hemizygous cytosine-to-thymine substitution at nucleotide 64 in exon 1, which creates a novel nonsense mutation (p.(Gln22*)). In order to compare the clinical presentation of the patient to that of other patients with X-linked AHC, we searched the electronic database MEDLINE (PubMed) and found reports of nine other cases with delayed onset of X-linked AHC. In certain cases, genotype–phenotype correlation could be assumed.

Learning points:

  • X-linked AHC is a rare disease characterized by primary AI and hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (HHG). The full-blown clinical picture is seen usually only in males with a typical onset in childhood.

  • Patients with a late-onset form of X-linked AHC have also been described recently. Being aware of this late-onset form might help to reach an early diagnosis and prevent life-threatening adrenal crises.

  • Adult men with primary AI of unknown etiology should be investigated for HHG. Detecting a DAX1 mutation may confirm the clinical diagnosis of late-onset X-linked AHC.

  • In relatives of patients with genetically confirmed X-linked AHC, targeted mutation analysis may help to identify family members at risk and asymptomatic carriers, and discuss conscious family planning.