The aim of the present study was to validate criteria of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) stimulation and 8 mg dexamethasone suppression (high-dose dexamethasone suppression, HDDS) to distinguish the etiology of ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome.
Subjects and methods
We retrospectively analyzed cortisol and ACTH after the injection of 100 μg human CRH in confirmed Cushing's disease (CD, n=78) and confirmed ectopic Cushing's syndrome (ECS, n=18). Cortisol and ACTH increase (in percentage above basal (%B)) at each time point, maximal increase (Δmax %B), and area under the curve (AUC %B) were analyzed using receiver operator characteristics (ROC) curve analyses. Cortisol suppression (%B) after 8 mg of dexamethasone was evaluated as a supplementary criterion.
An increase in ACTH of ≥43%B at 15 min after CRH was the strongest predictor of CD, with a positive likelihood ratio of 14.0, a sensitivity of 83%, a specificity of 94%, a positive predictive value of 98% and a negative predictive value of 58%. All of the other criteria of stimulated ACTH and cortisol levels were not superior in predicting CD in response to CRH injection. The addition of cortisol suppression by dexamethasone did not increase the discriminatory power. However, the combination of a positive ACTH response at 15 min and a positive HDDS test excluded ECS in all cases.
The present findings support the use of plasma ACTH levels 15 min after the injection of human CRH as a response criterion for distinguishing between CD and ECS. The addition of the HDDS test is helpful for excluding ECS when both tests are positive.