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R Giordano, E Marinazzo, R Berardelli, A Picu, M Maccario, E Ghigo and E Arvat

Objective

To evaluate long-term morphological, functional, and clinical outcome in adrenal incidentalomas.

Design and methods

A total of 118 patients (77 F and 47 M; age 62.3±1.0 years) with adrenal incidentalomas were evaluated at baseline and followed-up for median 3 years (range 1–10 years) by clinical, biochemical, hormonal, and morphological evaluation. Among them, six patients with diagnosis of subclinical Cushing's syndrome (SCS) underwent surgery.

Results

At entry, 86% (n=102) of tumors were nonfunctioning (NF) and 14% (n=16) showed SCS. Comparing NF with SCS patients, a significantly higher percentage of dyslipidemia was found in the group of SCS patients (50 vs 23%, P=0.033). During follow-up, adrenal function remained normal in all NF patients, none of them developed subclinical or overt endocrine disease. The cumulative risk of mass enlargement was globally low (25%), but progressive up to 8 years. SCS was confirmed in all patients, and none of them shifted to overt Cushing's syndrome. The cumulative risk of developing metabolic–cardiovascular abnormalities was globally low (22%), but progressive up to 8 years and new diseases were recorded in the group of NF patients only (three patients with dyslipidemia, four with impaired fasting glucose/impaired glucose tolerance, and three with diabetes mellitus). SCS patients who underwent surgery did not show any significant clinical improvement.

Conclusions

The risk of mass enlargement, hormonal, and metabolic impairment over time is globally low. Conservative management seems to be appropriate, but further prospective studies are needed to establish the long-term outcome of such patients, especially for metabolic status, cardiovascular risk profile and their relationship with endocrine function.

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F Broglio, A Benso, C Gottero, G Muccioli, R Deghenghi, E Ghigo and E Arvat

OBJECTIVE: Peptidyl and non-peptidyl synthetic GH secretagogues (GHS) possess significant GH-, prolactin (PRL)- and ACTH/cortisol-releasing activity after i.v. and even p.o. administration, acting via specific hypothalamo-pituitary receptors in both animals and humans. The hexapeptide hexarelin (HEX) is a paradigmatic GHS whose activities have been widely studied in humans. The heptapeptide Ala-His-d-2-methyl-Trp-Ala-Trp-d-Phe-Lys-NH(2) (alexamorelin, ALEX) is a new synthetic molecule which inhibits GHS binding in vitro, but its endocrine activity has never been studied in humans. DESIGN: In six young adults we studied the effects of 1.0 and 2.0 microgram/kg i.v. ALEX or HEX on GH, PRL, ACTH, cortisol and aldosterone levels and those of 20mg p.o. ( approximately 300 microgram/kg) on GH levels. RESULTS: Basal GH, PRL, ACTH, cortisol and aldosterone levels in all testing sessions were similar. ALEX and HEX (1.0 and 2.0 microgram/kg i.v.) induced the same dose-dependent increase of GH and PRL levels. Both ALEX and HEX induced a dose-dependent increase of ACTH and cortisol levels. The ACTH and cortisol responses to the highest ALEX dose were significantly higher than those after HEX. Aldosterone levels significantly increased after both i.v. ALEX doses, but not after HEX. The GH response to 20mg p.o. ALEX was higher, though not significantly, than that to the same HEX dose. CONCLUSION: ALEX, a new GHS, shows the same GH-releasing activity as HEX. On the other hand, ALEX seems endowed with an ACTH-releasing activity more marked than that of HEX; this evidence could explain the significant increase of aldosterone levels after its i.v. administration.

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E Arvat, B Maccagno, J Ramunni, M Maccario, R Giordano, F Broglio, F Camanni and E Ghigo

OBJECTIVE: It is known that glucagon administration elicits ACTH and cortisol responses in humans, although this effect takes place after intramuscular or subcutaneous but not after the intravenous route of administration. The mechanisms underlying this stimulatory effect on corticotroph secretion are unknown but they are unrelated to glucose variations and stress-mediated actions. DESIGN AND METHODS: To throw further light on the stimulatory effect of i.m. glucagon on the pituitary-adrenal axis, using six normal young female volunteers (26-32 years, body mass index 19.7-22.5 kg/m(2)) we studied the interaction between glucagon (GLU; 0.017 mg/kg i.m.) and human corticotropin-releasing hormone (hCRH; 2.0 microg/kg i.v.) or vasopressin (AVP; 0.17 U/kg i.m.). The interactions between hCRH and AVP on the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the GH response to GLU alone or combined with hCRH or AVP were also studied. RESULTS: GLU i.m. administration elicited a clear increase in ACTH (peak vs baseline, means+/-s.e.m.: 11.6+/-3.3 vs 4.2+/-0.3 pmol/l, P<0.05), cortisol (613.5+/-65.6 vs 436.9+/-19.3 nmol/l, P<0.05) and GH levels (11.6+/-3.4 vs 3.3+/-0.7 microg/l, P<0.05). The ACTH response to GLU (area under the curve: 426.4+/-80.9 pmol/l per 120 min) was higher than that to AVP (206.3+/-38.8 pmol/l per 120 min, P<0.02) and that to hCRH (299.8+/-39.8 pmol/l per 120 min) although this latter difference did not attain statistical significance. The GLU-induced cortisol response (28336.9+/-2430.7 nmol/l per 120 min) was similar to those after hCRH (24099.2+/-2075.2 nmol/l per 120 min) and AVP (21808.7+/-1948.2 nmol/l per 120 min). GLU and hCRH had an additive effect on ACTH (964.9+/-106.6 pmol/l per 120 min, P<0.02) and a less than additive effect on cortisol levels (35542.5+/-2720. 2 nmol/l per 120 min). Similarly, GLU and AVP had an additive effect on ACTH (825.6+/-139.6 pmol/l per 120 min, P<0.02) and an effect less than additive on cortisol levels (33059.2+/-1965.3 nmol/l per 120 min). The effects of GLU co-administered with hCRH or AVP were similar to those of the combined administration of hCRH and AVP on ACTH (906. 0+/-152.7 pmol/l per 120 min) and cortisol (34383.5+/-1669.2 nmol/l per 120min) levels. The GH response to GLU was not modified by hCRH or AVP. CONCLUSIONS: These results show that i.m. glucagon administration is a provocative stimulus of ACTH and cortisol secretion, at least as potent as hCRH and AVP. The ACTH-releasing effect of i.m. glucagon is not mediated by selective CRH or AVP stimulation but the possibility that both neurohormones play a role could be hypothesized.

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LM Seoane, S Tovar, R Baldelli, E Arvat, E Ghigo, FF Casanueva and C Dieguez

Ghrelin is a growth hormone-releasing acylated peptide from stomach. The purified peptide consist of 28 amino acids in which the serine 3 residue is n-octanoylated. Ghrelin has been reported to increase in vitro GH secretion as well as in vivo plasma GH levels in pentobarbital anaesthetized rats. The aim of this work was to characterize the stimulatory effect of Ghrelin on in vivo GH secretion in freely-moving rats. Furthermore, we compare the effect of Ghrelin with GHRH. In addition to vehicle, we administered different doses of Ghrelin (3 nmol/Kg, 12 nmol/Kg and 60 nmol/Kg); GHRH (3 nmol/Kg and 12 nmol/kg). Plasma GH levels were measured in blood samples taken at 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 and 45 min after their administration as an i.v. bolus at 0 min. Administration of Ghrelin led to an increase in plasma GH levels at all time-points tested (5, 10, 15, 20 and 30 min, P<0.01; and 45 min, P<0.05) in comparison to control untreated rats. A maximal stimulatory effect on plasma GH was observed following administration of 12 nmol/Kg of Ghrelin, the effect being similar to the one obtained with 60 nmol/Kg in terms of both AUC and mean peak GH levels. At the dose of 3 nmol/Kg GHRH and Ghrelin exhibited a similar stimulatory effect in term of both, AUC and mean peak GH levels. However following administration of a dose of 12 nmol/Kg, the effect of Ghrelin was much greater than the same dose of GHRH in terms of both AUC and mean peak GH levels. In summary, this study provides the first evidences that Ghrelin exert a marked stimulatory effect in plasma GH levels in freely-moving rats and provides further evidences that Ghrelin may play an important role in the physiological control of GH secretion.

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G Aimaretti, G Fanciulli, S Bellone, M Maccario, E Arvat, G Delitala, F Camanni and E Ghigo

OBJECTIVE: Adults with severe GH deficiency (GHD) need recombinant human growth hormone (rhGH) replacement to restore body composition, structure functions and metabolic abnormalities. The optimal rhGH dose for replacement has been progressively reduced to avoid side effects. The aim of the present study was to define the minimal rhGH dose able to increase both IGF-I and IGF binding protein (BP)-3 levels in GHD and to verify the possible change in GH sensitivity. DESIGN AND PATIENTS: To this goal, we studied the effect of 4-day treatment with 3 rhGH doses (1.25, 2.5 and 5.0 microg/kg/day) on IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels in 25 panhypopituitary adults with severe GHD (12 males and 13 females, age: 44.5+/-3.0 years, body mass index (BMI): 27.0+/-0.9 kg/m(2)) and 21 normal young adult volunteers (NV, 12 males and 9 females, age: 30.5+/-2.0 years, BMI: 20.8+/-0.5 kg/m(2)). RESULTS: Basal IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels in GHD were lower (P<0.001) than in NV. In NV the 1.25 microg/kg dose of rhGH did not modify IGF-I levels. The dose of 2.5 microg/kg rhGH significantly increased IGF-I levels in men (P<0.001) but not in women, while the 5.0 microg/kg dose increased IGF-I levels in both sexes (P<0.001). IGFBP-3 levels were not modified by any of the administered rhGH doses. In GHD patients, all rhGH doses increased IGF-I levels 12 h after both the first (P<0.01) and the fourth rhGH dose (P<0.001). At the end of treatment percentage increases in IGF-I were higher (P<0.001) in GHD patients than in NV. In contrast with NV, in GHD patients the IGF-I response to short-term stimulation with rhGH was independent of gender. Moreover, GHD patients showed increases in IGFBP-3 after the fourth administration of both 2.5 and 5.0 microg/kg rhGH. CONCLUSION: The results of the present study demonstrate that the minimal rhGH dose able to increase IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels in GHD patients is lower than in normal subjects, at least after a very short treatment. This evidence suggests an enhanced peripheral GH sensitivity in GH deprivation.

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O Gualillo, JE Caminos, M Kojima, K Kangawa, E Arvat, E Ghigo, FF Casanueva and C Dieguez

OBJECTIVE: The recently isolated endogenous GH secretagogue, named ghrelin, is a gastric peptide of 28 amino acids with an n-octanoylation in the serine 3 that confers the biological activity to this factor. Ghrelin has been shown to directly stimulate GH release in vivo and in vitro and to be involved in the regulation of gastric acid secretion and motility. In the present work we have studied gender and gonadal dependency of ghrelin mRNA expression in rat stomach. DESIGN AND METHODS: We analysed ghrelin mRNA expression in rat stomach by Northern blot analysis. We also examined the effect of gonadal steroid deprivation on ghrelin mRNA expression. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: The results obtained showed clearly that ghrelin gastric mRNA expression increased with age in young rats (up to 90 days old) but exhibited no significant sex difference at each age tested. Ghrelin mRNA levels were lowest at postnatal day 9, reaching a stable level of expression at day 40 in both female and male rats, although the increase in female rats appears much more gradual than that in males. Moreover, neither ovariectomy nor orchidectomy significantly modified ghrelin mRNA gastric levels in adult rats. In conclusion, these data indicate that ghrelin mRNA expression is associated with age and that a progressive increase is present from the perinatal period up to a stable level after puberty. Gonadal hormones did not alter ghrelin mRNA levels. Taken together, these data showed that ghrelin mRNA levels in young rats are age but not gender dependent, and are not influenced by gonadal steroids.

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M Maccario, JD Veldhuis, F Broglio, LD Vito, E Arvat, R Deghenghi and E Ghigo

OBJECTIVE: To extend the insights on the action of GH secretagogues (GHS) on pituitary function, we studied the impact of intermittent daily s.c. administration of a peptidyl GHS, hexarelin (HEX), on 24-h GH, PRL, ACTH and cortisol release in healthy volunteers. DESIGN: We investigated the impact of two or three times daily s.c. administration of a short-acting peptidyl GHS, the hexapeptide HEX (1.5 microg/kg) on 24-h GH, PRL, ACTH and cortisol secretion (sampling every 20 min) in six normal young men. To monitor possible down-regulation, the effect of 1 microg/kg i.v. HEX at the end of each 24-h sampling period was studied. METHODS: Multi-parameter deconvolution analysis was used to quantitate pulsatile GH, PRL, ACTH and cortisol secretion and estimate the corresponding hormone half-lives. Complementary to deconvolution analysis, approximate entropy was used as a scale- and model-independent statistic to quantify the serial orderliness or pattern regularity of hormone measurements. RESULTS: Mean and integrated (24-h) serum GH concentrations were increased from baseline values to the same extent by two and three HEX injections. Both HEX schedules equally increased GH secretory burst mass (but not burst frequency), mean daily GH production rate, GH half-life and irregularity of GH release patterns. No change occurred in the secretion of IGF-I, PRL, ACTH and cortisol. Intravenous HEX at the end of each spontaneous 24-h profile induced a significant rise in GH, PRL, ACTH and cortisol. Prior HEX administration blunted the GH response, abolished that of ACTH and cortisol and did not modify the PRL increase. CONCLUSIONS: The study showed that two or three daily s.c. injections of HEX augmented 24-h GH secretion equally, amplifying selectively GH secretory pulse mass without altering lactotroph and corticotroph secretion. IGF-I levels were not modified by these 1-day HEX treatment schedules.

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P Cassoni, C Ghe, T Marrocco, E Tarabra, E Allia, F Catapano, R Deghenghi, E Ghigo, M Papotti and G Muccioli

BACKGROUND: Ghrelin, a natural growth hormone secretagogue (GHS), has been identified in prostate carcinoma cell lines. OBJECTIVES: To investigate the presence of ghrelin and its receptors in human prostate tumours and in DU-145, PC-3 and LNCaP prostate carcinoma cell lines, and to assess the effects of ghrelin and its more abundant circulating form, des-octanoyl ghrelin, on cell proliferation. METHODS: Ghrelin and types 1a and 1b GHS receptor (GHS-R) were determined at the mRNA and protein levels by RT-PCR, in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry and enzyme immunoassay in tissues, cell lines and culture medium. Ghrelin binding was determined by radioreceptor assay. The effects on cell proliferation were evaluated by growth curves. RESULTS: Ghrelin mRNA was found in prostatic carcinomas and benign hyperplasias, but immunohistochemistry was negative. GHS-R1a and 1b mRNAs were absent from carcinomas, but GHS-R1b mRNA was present in 50% of hyperplasias. Ghrelin peptide and mRNA were present in PC-3 cells exclusively, whereas GHS-R1a and 1b mRNAs were expressed in DU-145 cells only. Specific [125I]Tyr4-ghrelin binding was detected in prostate tumour, DU-145 and PC-3 cell membranes and the binding was displaced by ghrelin, synthetic GHS and des-octanoyl ghrelin, which is devoid of GHS-R1a binding affinity and GH-releasing activity. Ghrelin and des-acyl ghrelin inhibited DU-145 cell proliferation, displayed a biphasic effect in PC-3 cells and were ineffective in LNCaP cells. CONCLUSIONS: Specific GHS binding sites, other than GHS-R1a and 1b, are present in human prostatic neoplasms. Ghrelin, in addition to des-acyl ghrelin, exerts different effects on cell proliferation in prostate carcinoma cell lines.

Free access

S Bo, L Gentile, A Castiglione, V Prandi, S Canil, E Ghigo and G Ciccone

Objective

C-peptide, a cleavage product of insulin, exerts biological effects in patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus, but its role in type 2 diabetes mellitus is controversial. Our aim was to examine the associations between fasting C-peptide levels and all-cause mortality, specific-cause mortality and the incidence of chronic complications in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Design

Retrospective cohort study with a median follow-up of 14 years.

Methods

A representative cohort of 2113 patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus and a subgroup of 931 individuals from this cohort without chronic complications at baseline from a diabetic clinic were studied.

Results

Patients with higher C-peptide levels had higher baseline BMI and triglyceride and lower HDL-cholesterol values. During the follow-up, 46.1% of the patients died. In a Cox proportional hazard model, after multiple adjustments, no significant association was found between the C-peptide tertiles and all-cause mortality or mortality due to cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. In the subgroup of 931 patients without chronic complications at baseline, the incidence of microvascular complications decreased from the first to the third C-peptide level tertile, while the incidence of cardiovascular disease did not differ. The risks for incident retinopathy (hazard ratio (HR)=0.33; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.23–0.47), nephropathy (HR=0.27; 95% CI 0.18–0.38) and neuropathy (HR=0.39; 95% CI 0.25–0.61) were negatively associated with the highest C-peptide tertile, after adjusting for multiple confounders.

Conclusions

Higher baseline C-peptide levels were associated with a reduced risk of incident microvascular complications but imparted no survival benefit to patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Free access

E Arvat, B Maccagno, J Ramunni, R Giordano, F Broglio, L Gianotti, M Maccario, F Camanni and E Ghigo

OBJECTIVE: Glucagon administration stimulates both somatotroph and corticotroph secretion in humans, although this happens only if glucagon is administered by the intramuscular route and not by the intravenous route. On the other hand, GH secretagogues (GHS) strongly stimulate GH and also possess ACTH-releasing activity. DESIGN AND METHODS: To clarify the mechanisms underlying the stimulatory effects of both glucagon and GHS on somatotroph and corticotroph secretion, we studied the GH, ACTH and cortisol responses to glucagon (GLU, 0.017 mg/kg i.m.) and Hexarelin, a peptidyl GHS (HEX, 2.0 microg/kg i.v.) given alone or in combination in 6 normal young volunteers (females, aged 26-32 years, body mass index 19.7-22.5 kg/m). RESULTS: GLU administration elicited a clear increase in GH (peak vs baseline, mean+/-S.E.M.: 11.6+/-3.4 vs 3. 3+/-0.7 microg/l, P<0.02), ACTH (11.6+/-3.3 vs 4.1+/-0.3 pmol/l, P<0. 02) and cortisol (613.5+/-65.6 vs 436.9+/-19.3 nmol/l, P<0.05) levels. HEX induced a marked increase in GH levels (55.7+/-19.8 vs 3. 7+/-1.9 microg/l, P<0.005) and also significant ACTH (5.7+/-1.1 vs 3. 4+/-0.6 pmol/l, P<0.01) and cortisol (400.2+/-31.4 vs 363.4+/-32.2 nmol/l, P<0.05) responses. The GH area under the curve (AUC) after HEX was clearly higher than after GLU (1637.3+/-494.0 vs 479.1+/-115. 7 microg/l/120 min, P<0.04) while HEX and GLU coadministration had a true synergistic effect on GH release (3243.8+/-687.5 microg/l/120 min, P<0.02). The ACTH and cortisol AUCs after HEX were lower (P<0. 02) than those after GLU (208.3+/-41.3 vs 426.3+/-80.9 pmol/l/120 min and 18 874.5+/-1626.1 vs 28 338.5+/-2430.7 nmol/l/120 min respectively). The combined administration of HEX and GLU had an effect which was less than additive on both ACTH (564.02+/-76.5 pmol/l/120 min) and cortisol (35 424.6+/-5548.1 nmol/l/120 min) secretion. CONCLUSIONS: These results show that the intramuscular administration of glucagon releases less GH but more ACTH and cortisol than Hexarelin. The combined administration of glucagon and Hexarelin has a true synergistic effect on somatotroph secretion but a less than additive effect on corticotroph secretion; these findings suggest that these stimuli act via different mechanisms to stimulate somatotrophs while they could have a common action on the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis.