Hyperfunctioning unilateral adrenal macronodule in three patients with Cushing's disease: hormonal and imaging characterization

in European Journal of Endocrinology
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We aimed to investigate the dynamics of adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) and cortisol secretion in pituitary-dependent Cushing's syndrome with bilateral macronodular adrenal hyperplasia presenting as a single adrenal macronodule, and to determine the imaging characteristics of this syndrome. Three female patients were studied. Plasma ACTH and serum cortisol secretion were studied by determining their rhythmicity and pulsatility and their responses to the administration of ovine corticotropin-releasing factor, thyrotropin-releasing hormone, metyrapone, tetracosactrin, insulin and dexamethasone. Techniques used to localize the anatomical lesion were bilateral simultaneous inferior petrosal sinus sampling, magnetic resonance examination of the pituitary, computed tomography (CT) scanning and [75Se]cholesterol scintigraphy of the adrenal glands. Plasma ACTH and serum cortisol levels were measured using a commercial radioimmunoassay and an immunoradiometric assay. The ACTH and cortisol pulse number and amplitude were calculated using established computer software. In all three patients ACTH and cortisol secretory dynamics fulfilled the requirements for diagnosis of pituitary-dependent Cushing's syndrome. A close relationship between ACTH and cortisol pulses also favored a pituitary dependency. Study of the amplitude of cortisol pulses classified two patients in the group of hypopulsatile Cushing's disease. Adrenal CT scanning demonstrated the presence of a large single nodule. [75Se]Cholesterol scintigraphy showed bilateral radionuclide uptake, although mostly localized over the adrenal nodule. All patients underwent successful trans-sphenoidal hypophysectomy. Over a period of 1 year, a slow shrinkage of the adrenal nodule was observed in two patients, while no change in volume was observed in one patient. Demonstration of an adrenal macronodule on CT scanning in patients with Cushing's syndrome is in itself insufficient to allow the diagnosis of hypercorticism due to a unilateral adrenal adenoma. Additional dynamic endocrine testing, inferior petrosal sinus sampling and imaging techniques such as [75Se]cholesterol scintigraphy remain necessary to reach a correct diagnosis.


     European Society of Endocrinology