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Kieran Palmer, Scott Weerasuriya, Benjamin Whitelaw, and Rajaventhan Srirajaskanthan


We report a rare case of posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES), precipitated by ectopic Cushing’s syndrome, in a patient with a metastatic pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour. A 55-year-old female presented as a hypertensive emergency with seizures and severe biochemical disturbance, including alkalosis, hypokalaemia and hyperglycaemia. MRI showed vasogenic oedema in the parieto-occipital region, consistent with a diagnosis of PRES. She had a significantly raised serum cortisol (>6000 nmol/L) which did not suppress with dexamethasone. Plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) concentrations were neither suppressed nor raised but were consistently within the normal reference range. The unexpected finding of a normal ACTH may be explained by either tumour secretion of unmeasured ACTH-related peptides, immunoassay antibody interference or episodic ACTH secretion. PRES is usually reversible with prompt and appropriate treatment. Hypercortisolism associated PRES is rare and may be associated with a worse outcome.

Learning points

  • PRES secondary to ectopic Cushing’s syndrome is very rare.
  • PRES in this context may indicate a worse prognosis.
  • In ectopic Cushing’s syndrome, if the serum ACTH level is normal, consider testing for ACTH-related peptides or interfering antibodies.
  • Further research is required to establish the best treatment approach and to improve patients’ outcomes.