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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.

Open access

Lima Lawrence, Peng Zhang, Humberto Choi, Usman Ahmad, Valeria Arrossi, Andrei Purysko and Vinni Makin

Summary

Ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) production leading to ectopic ACTH syndrome accounts for a small proportion of all Cushing’s syndrome (CS) cases. Thymic neuroendocrine tumors are rare neoplasms that may secrete ACTH leading to rapid development of hypercortisolism causing electrolyte and metabolic abnormalities, uncontrolled hypertension and an increased risk for opportunistic infections. We present a unique case of a patient who presented with a mediastinal mass, revealed to be an ACTH-secreting thymic neuroendocrine tumor (NET) causing ectopic CS. As the diagnosis of CS from ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS) remains challenging, we emphasize the necessity for high clinical suspicion in the appropriate setting, concordance between biochemical, imaging and pathology findings, along with continued vigilant monitoring for recurrence after definitive treatment.

Learning points:

  • Functional thymic neuroendocrine tumors are exceedingly rare.

  • Ectopic Cushing’s syndrome secondary to thymic neuroendocrine tumors secreting ACTH present with features of hypercortisolism including electrolyte and metabolic abnormalities, uncontrolled hypertension and hyperglycemia, and opportunistic infections.

  • The ability to undergo surgery and completeness of resection are the strongest prognostic factors for improved overall survival; however, the recurrence rate remains high.

  • A high degree of initial clinical suspicion followed by vigilant monitoring is required for patients with this challenging disease.

Open access

Mara Ventura, Leonor Gomes, Joana Rosmaninho-Salgado, Luísa Barros, Isabel Paiva, Miguel Melo, Diana Oliveira and Francisco Carrilho

Summary

Intracranial germinomas are rare tumors affecting mostly patients at young age. Therefore, molecular data on its etiopathogenesis are scarce. We present a clinical case of a male patient of 25 years with an intracranial germinoma and a 16p11.2 microdeletion. His initial complaints were related to obesity, loss of facial hair and polydipsia. He also had a history of social-interaction difficulties during childhood. His blood tests were consistent with hypogonadotropic hypogonadism and secondary adrenal insufficiency, and he had been previously diagnosed with hypothyroidism. He also presented with polyuria and polydipsia and the water deprivation test confirmed the diagnosis of diabetes insipidus. His sellar magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed two lesions: one located in the pineal gland and other in the suprasellar region, both with characteristics suggestive of germinoma. Chromosomal microarray analysis was performed due to the association of obesity with social disability, and the result identified a 604 kb 16p11.2 microdeletion. The surgical biopsy confirmed the histological diagnosis of a germinoma. Pharmacological treatment with testosterone, hydrocortisone and desmopressin was started, and the patient underwent radiotherapy (40 Gy divided in 25 fractions). Three months after radiotherapy, a significant decrease in suprasellar and pineal lesions without improvement in pituitary hormonal deficiencies was observed. The patient is currently under follow-up. To the best of our knowledge, we describe the first germinoma in a patient with a 16p11.2 deletion syndrome, raising the question about the impact of this genetic alteration on tumorigenesis and highlighting the need of molecular analysis of germ cell tumors as only little is known about their genetic background.

Learning points:

  • Central nervous system germ cell tumors (CNSGTs) are rare intracranial tumors that affect mainly young male patients. They are typically located in the pineal and suprasellar regions and patients frequently present with symptoms of hypopituitarism.

  • The molecular pathology of CNSGTs is unknown, but it has been associated with gain of function of the KIT gene, isochromosome 12p amplification and a low DNA methylation.

  • Germinoma is a radiosensitive tumor whose diagnosis depends on imaging, tumor marker detection, surgical biopsy and cerebrospinal fluid cytology.

  • 16p11.2 microdeletion syndrome is phenotypically characterized by developmental delay, intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorders.

  • Seminoma, cholesteatoma, desmoid tumor, leiomyoma and Wilms tumor have been described in a few patients with 16p11.2 deletion.

  • Bifocal germinoma was identified in this patient with a 16p11.2 microdeletion syndrome, which represents a putative new association not previously reported in the literature.

Open access

Matthieu St-Jean, Jessica MacKenzie-Feder, Isabelle Bourdeau and André Lacroix

Summary

A 29-year-old G4A3 woman presented at 25 weeks of pregnancy with progressive signs of Cushing’s syndrome (CS), gestational diabetes requiring insulin and hypertension. A 3.4 × 3.3 cm right adrenal adenoma was identified during abdominal ultrasound imaging for nephrolithiasis. Investigation revealed elevated levels of plasma cortisol, 24 h urinary free cortisol (UFC) and late-night salivary cortisol (LNSC). Serum ACTH levels were not fully suppressed (4 and 5 pmol/L (N: 2–11)). One month post-partum, CS regressed, 24-h UFC had normalised while ACTH levels were now less than 2 pmol/L; however, dexamethasone failed to suppress cortisol levels. Tests performed in vivo 6 weeks post-partum to identify aberrant hormone receptors showed no cortisol stimulation by various tests (including 300 IU hLH i.v.) except after administration of 250 µg i.v. Cosyntropin 1–24. Right adrenalectomy demonstrated an adrenocortical adenoma and atrophy of adjacent cortex. Quantitative RT-PCR analysis of the adenoma revealed the presence of ACTH (MC2) receptor mRNA, while LHCG receptor mRNA was almost undetectable. This case reveals that CS exacerbation in the context of pregnancy can result from the placental-derived ACTH stimulation of MC2 receptors on the adrenocortical adenoma. Possible contribution of other placental-derived factors such as oestrogens, CRH or CRH-like peptides cannot be ruled out.

Learning points:

  • Diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome during pregnancy is complicated by several physiological alterations in hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis regulation occurring in normal pregnancy.

  • Cushing’s syndrome (CS) exacerbation during pregnancy can be associated with aberrant expression of LHCG receptor on primary adrenocortical tumour or hyperplasia in some cases, but not in this patient.

  • Placental-derived ACTH, which is not subject to glucocorticoid negative feedback, stimulated cortisol secretion from this adrenal adenoma causing transient CS exacerbation during pregnancy.

  • Following delivery and tumour removal, suppression of HPA axis can require several months to recover and requires glucocorticoid replacement therapy.

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

Seong Keat Cheah, David Halsall, Peter Barker, John Grant, Abraham Mathews, Shyam Seshadri and Singhan Krishnan

Summary

A frail 79-year-old lady with dementia presented with a 2-year history of frequent falls. Recurrent hypoglycaemic episodes were diagnosed and treated with continuous glucose infusion in multiple hospital admissions. Hypoadrenalism and hypothyroidism were ruled out. Whilst hypoglycaemic (blood glucose 1.6 mmol/L), both plasma C-peptide and proinsulin concentrations, were inappropriately elevated at 4210 pmol/L (174–960) and >200 pmol/L (0–7) respectively with plasma insulin suppressed at 12 pmol/L (0–180). Whilst reported cases of proinsulinoma are typically pancreatic in origin, radiological investigations of the pancreas in this patient did not identify abnormalities. Unexpectedly contrast CT identified a heterogeneously enhancing mass (6.6 cm) at the lower pole of the left kidney consistent with renal cell carcinoma. Non-islet cell tumour-induced hypoglycaemia has been associated with renal malignancy; however, a serum IGF2:IGF1 ratio measured at <10 effectively excludes this diagnosis. Concomitantly on the CT, extensive peripherally enhancing heterogeneous mass lesions in the liver were identified, the largest measuring 12 cm. A palliative approach was taken due to multiple comorbidities. On post-mortem, the kidney lesion was confirmed as clear cell renal carcinoma, whilst the liver lesions were identified as proinsulin-secreting neuroendocrine tumours. In conclusion, the diagnosis of proinsulinoma can be missed if plasma proinsulin concentration is not measured at the time of hypoglycaemia. In this case, the plasma insulin:C-peptide ratio was too high to be accounted for by the faster relative clearance of insulin and was due to proinsulin cross-reactivity in the C-peptide assay. In addition, the concomitant malignancy proved to be a challenging red herring.

Learning points:

  • Even in non-diabetics, hypoglycaemia needs to be excluded in a setting of frequent falls. Insulin- or proinsulin-secreting tumours are potentially curable causes.

  • Whilst investigating spontaneous hypoglycaemia, if plasma insulin concentration is appropriate for the hypoglycaemia, it is prudent to check proinsulin concentrations during the hypoglycaemic episode.

  • Proinsulin cross-reacts variably with C-peptide and insulin assays; the effect is method dependent. In this case, the discrepancy between the insulin and C-peptide concentrations was too great to be accounted for by the faster relative clearance of insulin, raising the suspicion of assay interference. The C-peptide assay in question (Diasorin liaison) has been shown to be 100% cross reactive with proinsulin based on spiking studies with a proinsulin reference preparation.

  • Whilst reported cases of proinsulinoma and 99% of insulinomas are of pancreatic origin, conventional imaging studies (CT, MRI or ultrasound) fail to detect neuroendocrine tumours <1 cm in 50% of cases.

  • The concomitant renal mass identified radiologically proved to be a red herring.

  • In view of the rarity of proinsulinoma, no conclusive association with renal cell carcinoma can be established.

Open access

S F Wan Muhammad Hatta, L Kandaswamy, C Gherman-Ciolac, J Mann and H N Buch

Summary

Myopathy is a well-known complication of hypercortisolism and commonly involves proximal lower-limb girdle. We report a rare case of Cushing’s syndrome in a 60-year-old female presenting with significant respiratory muscle weakness and respiratory failure. She had history of rheumatoid arthritis, primary biliary cirrhosis and primary hypothyroidism and presented with weight gain and increasing shortness of breath. Investigations confirmed a restrictive defect with impaired gas transfer but with no significant parenchymatous pulmonary disease. Respiratory muscle test confirmed weakness of respiratory muscles and diaphragm. Biochemical and radiological investigations confirmed hypercortisolaemia secondary to a left adrenal tumour. Following adrenalectomy her respiratory symptoms improved along with an objective improvement in the respiratory muscle strength, diaphragmatic movement and pulmonary function test.

Learning points:

  • Cushing’s syndrome can present in many ways, a high index of suspicion is required for its diagnosis, as often patients present with only few of the pathognomonic symptoms and signs of the syndrome.

  • Proximal lower-limb girdle myopathy is common in Cushing’s syndrome. Less often long-term exposure of excess glucocorticoid production can also affect other muscles including respiratory muscle and the diaphragm leading to progressive shortness of breath and even acute respiratory failure.

  • Treatment of Cushing’s myopathy involves treating the underlying cause that is hypercortisolism. Various medications have been suggested to hinder the development of GC-induced myopathy, but their effects are poorly analysed.

Open access

Ploutarchos Tzoulis, Richard W Corbett, Swarupini Ponnampalam, Elly Baker, Daniel Heaton, Triada Doulgeraki and Justin Stebbing

Summary

Five days following the 3rd cycle of nivolumab, a monoclonal antibody, which acts as immune checkpoint inhibitor against the programmed cell death protein-1, for metastatic lung adenocarcinoma, a 56-year-old woman presented at the hospital critically ill. On admission, she had severe diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), as evidenced by venous glucose of 47 mmol/L, blood ketones of 7.5 mmol/L, pH of 6.95 and bicarbonate of 6.6 mmol/L. She has had no personal or family history of diabetes mellitus (DM), while random venous glucose, measured 1 week prior to hospitalisation, was 6.1 mmol/L. On admission, her HbA1c was 8.2% and anti-GAD antibodies were 12 kIU/L (0–5 kU/L), while islet cell antibodies and serum C-peptide were undetectable. Nivolumab was recommenced without the development of other immune-mediated phenomena until 6 months later, when she developed hypothyroidism with TSH 18 U/L and low free T4. She remains insulin dependent and has required levothyroxine replacement, while she has maintained good radiological and clinical response to immunotherapy. This case is notable for the rapidity of onset and profound nature of DKA at presentation, which occurred two months following commencement of immunotherapy. Despite the association of nivolumab with immune-mediated endocrinopathies, only a very small number of patients developing type 1 DM has been reported to date. Patients should be closely monitored for hyperglycaemia and thyroid dysfunction prior to and periodically during immunotherapy.

Learning points:

  • Nivolumab can induce fulminant type 1 diabetes, resulting in DKA.

  • Nivolumab is frequently associated with thyroid dysfunction, mostly hypothyroidism.

  • Nivolumab-treated patients should be monitored regularly for hyperglycaemia and thyroid dysfunction.

  • Clinicians should be aware and warn patients of potential signs and symptoms of severe hyperglycaemia.

Open access

Carine Ghassan Richa, Khadija Jamal Saad, Georges Habib Halabi, Elie Mekhael Gharios, Fadi Louis Nasr and Marie Tanios Merheb

Summary

The objective of this study is to report three cases of paraneoplastic or ectopic Cushing syndrome, which is a rare phenomenon of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-dependent Cushing syndrome. Three cases are reported in respect of clinical presentation, diagnosis and treatment in addition to relevant literature review. The results showed that ectopic ACTH secretion can be associated with different types of neoplasm most common of which are bronchial carcinoid tumors, which are slow-growing, well-differentiated neoplasms with a favorable prognosis and small-cell lung cancer, which are poorly differentiated tumors with a poor outcome. The latter is present in two out of three cases and in the remaining one, primary tumor could not be localized, representing a small fraction of patients with paraneoplastic Cushing. Diagnosis is established in the setting of high clinical suspicion by documenting an elevated cortisol level, ACTH and doing dexamethasone suppression test. Treatment options include management of the primary tumor by surgery and chemotherapy and treating Cushing syndrome. Prognosis is poor in SCLC. We concluded that in front of a high clinical suspicion, ectopic Cushing syndrome diagnosis should be considered, and identification of the primary tumor is essential.

Learning points:

  • Learning how to suspect ectopic Cushing syndrome and confirm it among all the causes of excess cortisol.

  • Distinguish between occult and severe ectopic Cushing syndrome and etiology.

  • Providing the adequate treatment of the primary tumor as well as for the cortisol excess.

  • Prognosis depends on the differentiation and type of the primary malignancy.

Open access

Tessa Glyn, Beverley Harris and Kate Allen

Summary

We present the case of a 57-year-old lady who had a delayed diagnosis of central hypothyroidism on a background of Grave’s thyrotoxicosis and a partial thyroidectomy. During the twenty years following her partial thyroidectomy, the patient developed a constellation of symptoms and new diagnoses, which were investigated by numerous specialists from various fields, namely rheumatology, renal and respiratory. She developed significantly impaired renal function and raised creatine kinase (CK). She was also referred to a tertiary neurology service for investigation of myositis, which resulted in inconclusive muscle biopsies. Recurrently normal TSH results reassured clinicians that this did not relate to previous thyroid dysfunction. In 2015, she developed increased shortness of breath and was found to have a significant pericardial effusion. The clinical biochemist reviewed this lady’s blood results and elected to add on a free T4 (fT4) and free T3 (fT3), which were found to be <0.4 pmol/L (normal range (NR): 12–22 pmol/L) and 0.3 pmol/L (NR: 3.1–6.8 pmol/L), respectively. She was referred urgently to the endocrine services and commenced on Levothyroxine replacement for profound central hypothyroidism. Her other pituitary hormones and MRI were normal. In the following year, her eGFR and CK normalised, and her myositis symptoms, breathlessness and pericardial effusion resolved. One year following initiation of Levothyroxine, her fT4 and fT3 were in the normal range for the first time. This case highlights the pitfalls of relying purely on TSH for excluding hypothyroidism and the devastating effect the delay in diagnosis had upon this patient.

Learning points:

  • Isolated central hypothyroidism is very rare, but should be considered irrespective of previous thyroid disorders.

  • If clinicians have a strong suspicion that a patient may have hypothyroidism despite normal TSH, they should ensure they measure fT3 and fT4.

  • Laboratories that do not perform fT3 and fT4 routinely should review advice sent to requesting clinicians to include a statement explaining that a normal TSH excludes primary but not secondary hypothyroidism.

  • Thyroid function tests should be performed routinely in patients presenting with renal impairment or a raised CK.