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Open access

Anna Kopczak, Adrian-Minh Schumacher, Sandra Nischwitz, Tania Kümpfel, Günter K Stalla and Matthias K Auer

Summary

The autoimmune polyendocrinopathy–candidiasis–ectodermal dystrophy (APECED) syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by a mutation in the autoimmune regulator (AIRE) gene. Immune deficiency, hypoparathyroidism and Addison’s disease due to autoimmune dysfunction are the major clinical signs of APECED. We report on a 21-year-old female APECED patient with two inactivating mutations in the AIRE gene. She presented with sudden onset of periodic nausea. Adrenal insufficiency was diagnosed by means of the ACTH stimulation test. Despite initiation of hormone replacement therapy with hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone, nausea persisted and the patient developed cognitive deficits and a loss of interest which led to the diagnosis of depression. She was admitted to the psychiatric department for further diagnostic assessment. An EEG showed a focal epileptic pattern. Glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) antibodies, which had been negative eight years earlier, were now elevated in serum and in the cerebrospinal fluid. Oligoclonal bands were positive indicating an inflammatory process with intrathecal antibody production in the central nervous system (CNS). The periodic nausea was identified as dialeptic seizures, which clinically presented as gastrointestinal aura followed by episodes of reduced consciousness that occurred about 3–4 times per day. GAD antibody-associated limbic encephalitis (LE) was diagnosed. Besides antiepileptic therapy, an immunosuppressive treatment with corticosteroids was initiated followed by azathioprine. The presence of nausea and vomiting in endocrine patients with autoimmune disorders is indicative of adrenal insufficiency. However, our case report shows that episodic nausea may be a symptom of epileptic seizures due to GAD antibodies-associated LE in patients with APECED.

Learning points:

  • Episodic nausea cannot only be a sign of Addison’s disease, but can also be caused by epileptic seizures with gastrointestinal aura due to limbic encephalitis.

  • GAD antibodies are not only found in diabetes mellitus type 1, but they are also associated with autoimmune limbic encephalitis and can appear over time.

  • Limbic encephalitis can be another manifestation of autoimmune disease in patients with APECED/APS-1 that presents over the time course of the disease.

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.