Anna Riester and Martin Reincke
Primary aldosteronism (PA) is the most common cause of secondary hypertension. In this review, we discuss the diagnosis and management of PA during pregnancy based on the literature. As aldosterone and renin are physiologically increased during pregnancy and confirmation tests are not recommended, the diagnosis of PA during pregnancy relies on a repeatedly suppressed plasma renin level. Mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists (MRAs) are the most effective drugs to treat hypertension and hypokalemia in patients with PA. However, spironolactone (FDA pregnancy category C) might lead to undervirilization of male infants due to the anti-androgenic effects. Although data in the literature are very limited, treatment with spironolactone is not recommended. Eplerenone (FDA pregnancy category B) is a selective MRA without anti-androgenic potential. If MRA treatment is required in pregnancy, eplerenone appears to be a safe and effective alternative, although symptomatic treatment with approved antihypertensive drugs and supplementation with potassium is the first choice. In case of aldosterone-producing adenoma, laparoscopic adrenalectomy is a therapeutic option in the second trimester of pregnancy.
Tracy Ann Williams and Martin Reincke
The syndrome of primary aldosteronism (PA) is characterized by hypertension with excessive, autonomous aldosterone production and is usually caused by either a unilateral aldosterone-producing adenoma or bilateral adrenal hyperplasia. The diagnostic workup of PA is a sequence of three phases comprising screening tests, confirmatory tests and the differentiation of unilateral from bilateral forms. The latter step is necessary to determine the optimal treatment approach of unilateral laparoscopic adrenalectomy (for patients with unilateral PA) or medical treatment with a mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist (for patients with bilateral PA). Since the publication of the revised Endocrine Society guideline 2016, a number of key studies have been published. They challenge the recommendations of the guideline in some areas and confirm current practice in others. Herein, we present the recent developments and current approaches to the medical management of PA.
Marily Theodoropoulou, Martin Reincke, Martin Fassnacht, and Masayuki Komada
Cushing's disease (CD) arises from pituitary-dependent glucocorticoid excess due to an ACTH-secreting corticotroph tumor. Genetic hits in oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes that afflict other pituitary tumor subtypes are not found in corticotrophinomas. Recently, a somatic mutational hotspot was found in up to half of corticotrophinomas in the USP8 gene that encodes a protein that impairs the downregulation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and enables its constitutive signaling. EGF is an important regulator of corticotroph function and its receptor is highly expressed in Cushing's pituitary tumors, where it leads to increased ACTH synthesis in vitro and in vivo. The mutational hotspot found in corticotrophinomas hyper-activates USP8, enabling it to rescue EGFR from lysosomal degradation and ensure its stimulatory signaling. This review presents new developments in the study of the genetics of CD and focuses on the USP8-EGFR system as trigger and target of corticotroph tumorigenesis.
Nicole Reisch, Marc Slawik, Oliver Zwermann, Felix Beuschlein, and Martin Reincke
Objective: Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is the primary secretagogue stimulating secretion of adrenal androgens (AA). Yet, genetic and environmental factors are assumed to play a determining role in the regulation of their biosynthesis and thus might explain the high variability of AA levels. Here we investigate the influence of an ACTH receptor promoter polymorphism affecting ACTH receptor gene transcription on ACTH-dependent dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) secretion.
Design: We recently reported a polymorphism within the transcription initiation site of the ACTH receptor gene promoter that alters the consensus sequence from CTC to CCC at −2 bp. This results in lower promoter activity in vitro and is associated with impaired cortisol response to ACTH stimulation in vivo. We now studied 14 normal, lean volunteers aged 20–35 years (eight CTC/CTC and six CCC/CCC carriers) in a 6-h ACTH stimulation test.
Methods: After overnight dexamethasone suppression, ACTH1-24 was administered continuously in each subject with hourly increasing doses (120–3840 ng/m2 body surface area/h) within a 6-h period. On a separate day, baseline DHEA samples were collected.
Results: In the 6-h ACTH stimulation test, CTC/CTC carriers showed a significantly higher DHEA response than CCC/CCC carriers (area under the curve: 19 367 ± 2919 vs 11 098 ± 1241 nmol/l per min; P < 0.04, Mann–Whitney U-test). In contrast, baseline DHEA concentrations did not differ between groups.
Conclusion: These data demonstrate that genetic variations within the ACTH receptor promoter result in decreased DHEA secretion. Thus, we might have identified one of the genetic factors responsible for variation in ACTH-dependent DHEA secretion.
Guido Di Dalmazi, Renato Pasquali, Felix Beuschlein, and Martin Reincke
Subclinical hypercortisolism (SH), defined as alterations of the hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis in the absence of clinical signs or symptoms related to cortisol secretion, is a common finding in patients with adrenal incidentalomas. The clinical correlates of this pathological condition have become clearer over the last few years. The aim of this review is to summarize the co-morbidities and the clinical outcomes of patients with SH. According to the analysis of the results of the studies published within the last 15 years, hypertension and type 2 diabetes are a common finding in patients with SH, occurring roughly in 2/3 and 1/3 of the patients respectively. Moreover, several additional cardiovascular and metabolic complications, like endothelial damage, increased visceral fat accumulation and impaired lipid metabolism have been shown to increase the cardiovascular risk of those patients. Accordingly, recent independent reports investigating the natural history of the disease in a long-term follow-up setting have shown that patients with SH have a higher incidence of cardiovascular events and related mortality. Moreover, longitudinal studies have also shown increased incidence of osteoporotic vertebral fractures. Future research is needed to improve the diagnostic performance of hormonal tests, by assessment of the complete steroid profile with more accurate assays, and to define the efficacy of surgical vs medical treatment in a randomized-controlled setting.
Oliver Zwermann, Dominik M Schulte, Martin Reincke, and Felix Beuschlein
Objectives: Although several lines of evidence suggest that the overall effects of the ACTH receptor, melanocortin 2 receptor (MC2-R), mediated signal transduction on adrenocortical growth and tumorigenesis are anti-proliferative, activation of MC2-R induces mitogens like jun, fos, and myc and activates the MAPK pathway. In vivo, potential effects of endogenous ACTH on adrenal tumori-genesis can not be separated from effects of other POMC derived peptides.
Methods: Murine adrenocortical tumor cells that lack MC2-R expression (Y6pcDNA) and Y6 cells stablely transfected with MC2-R (Y6MC2-R) were generated. Presence of functional MC2-R was demonstrated by RT-PCR and Western blot using an antibody for phosphorylated CREB. As a syngenic tumor model, LaHeF1/J mice simultaneously received 107 Y6MC2-R and Y6pcDNA subcutaneously, giving rise to MC2-R positive and negative tumors within the same animal. Animals were treated for 3 weeks in groups of 12 according to the following schedule: group A, control animals receiving saline injection; group B, animals receiving 5.7 ng/injection of a slow release formula of ACTH 1-24 administered i.p. three times a week (aiming at a low physiologic dose); and group C, animals receiving 57 ng/injection of ACTH 1-24 (high physiological dose).
Results: Twenty days of ACTH 1-24 treatment did not significantly affect corticosterone levels, endogenous ACTH levels or adrenal and thymus weight compared with saline injection. However, ACTH 1-24 treatment of group B and C mice significantly reduced tumor weight in MC2-R positive tumors in a dose dependent manner (P = 0.03), while no significant difference in tumor mass was observed in MC2-R negative tumors. PCNA and TUNEL staining, together with morphological characterization, demonstrated that these in vivo effects were due to reduced proliferation, while apoptosis and cellular hypertrophy within the tumor remained unchanged.
Conclusion: MC2-R expression is associated with a less aggressive adrenal tumor phenotype and anti-proliferative effects can be amplified through stimulation with physiological doses of ACTH.
Matthias J Betz, Christoph Degenhart, Evelyn Fischer, Anna Pallauf, Volker Brand, Ulrich Linsenmaier, Felix Beuschlein, Martin Bidlingmaier, and Martin Reincke
Adrenal vein sampling (AVS) is considered the gold standard in the differential diagnosis of primary aldosteronism (PA), but success rates vary between centers. We hypothesized that rapid (intraprocedure) cortisol measurement can improve performance in a center with initially low AVS success rate.
We analyzed 46 patients with confirmed PA studied between 2008 and 2010. Forty-seven PA patients studied between 2004 and 2008 identified by retrospective chart review served as controls. All patients were treated at a single tertiary care university hospital.
Starting in 2008, rapid cortisol assays (RCA) were performed in all patients during the AVS procedure. A cortisol gradient of ≥2.0 between adrenal vein and a femoral vein sample was used as success criterion. Up to two repeat samples were drawn if adrenal vein cortisol was below this threshold.
During the control period 26 of 47 AVS were successful (55%). After introduction of RCA, 39 out of 46 AVS (85%) were successful (P=0.003). In 21 of the 46 cases (46%) a resampling was necessary. The increase in overall success was due to an increase in successful right AVS (85 vs 62% before introduction of RCA; P=0.02) and a training effect (P=0.024 for trend).
RCA during AVS are useful in centers with an initially low AVS success rate.
Oliver Zwermann, Felix Beuschlein, Enzo Lalli, Albrecht Klink, Paolo Sassone-Corsi, and Martin Reincke
Background: The ACTH receptor (ACTH-R) is a member of the seven transmembrane domain receptor super-family. In non-functional adrenal adenomas and adrenocortical carcinomas, ACTH-R expression is low. However, no inhibitory factor for ACTH-R expression has been defined to date. DAX-1 (dosage-sensitive sex reversal, adrenal hypoplasia congenita, critical region on the X chromosome, gene-1) is a general repressor of steroid production, inhibiting steroidogenic factor-1 (SF-1)-dependent expression of multiple steroidogenic enzymes. The aim of this study was to investigate whether ACTH-R gene transcription is affected by DAX-1 and whether this mechanism is involved in down-regulation of ACTH-R expression in adrenocortical tumors.
Methods: We screened 22 adrenocortical tumors for ACTH-R and DAX-1 mRNA expression by Northern blot. For in vitro analyses we co-transfected mouse Y1 adrenocortical carcinoma cells with the luciferase reporter gene vector pGL3 containing full-length constructs of human (h) or mouse (m) ACTH-R promoter together with a DAX-1 expression plasmid. These experiments were also performed using ACTH-R promoter 5′-deletion constructs and constructs mutated at the SF-1-binding sites.
Results: We found a negative correlation between DAX-1 and ACTH-R mRNA expression (R = −0.47, P < 0.02). Accordingly, in vitro expression of DAX-1 significantly reduced hACTH-R and mACTH-R promoter activity by 89 and 55% respectively. DAX-1 inhibition was also present in the shortest construct of a series of 5′-deletion constructs of the human promoter extending from −64 to +40 bp relative to the transcription start site. Mutation of the SF-1-binding sites within the hACTH-R promoter resulted in reduced or abolished DAX-1 inhibition, arguing for a mechanism that involves SF-1 for DAX-1 inhibition.
Conclusions: These data support the concept that DAX-1 is a major repressor of ACTH-R gene expression in vitro and in vivo.
Caroline Schirpenbach, Lysann Seiler, Christiane Maser-Gluth, Frank Rüdiger, Christian Nickel, Felix Beuschlein, and Martin Reincke
Objective: Primary aldosteronism has recently been recognized as the most frequent cause of secondary hypertension. Since most patients are normokalaemic, differentiation to essential hypertension is challenging. As differentiation by baseline aldosterone/renin ratio may be insufficient, diagnosis should be confirmed by additional tests. However, as most confirmatory tests have been evaluated in hypokalaemic primary aldosteronism only, we reassessed the value of the saline infusion test and 24 h urinary aldosterone metabolites as confirmatory tests for both normo- and hypokalaemic primary aldosteronism under current antihypertensive medication.
Patients and methods: 25 patients with primary aldosteronism (11 hypokalaemic, 14 normokalaemic), 29 patients with essential hypertension and 47 normotensive subjects were studied. The hypertensives received their usual medication with the exception of spironolactone. All subjects underwent a standard saline infusion test (determination of plasma aldosterone before and after 2.0 liters of isotonic saline for 4 hours i.v.) and collected a 24 h urine sample for examination of urinary tetrahydroaldosterone and aldosterone-18-glucuronide.
Results: In hypokalaemic primary aldosteronism the saline infusion test showed a reasonable sensitivity (91%) and specificity (90%). However, the test failed to differentiate sufficiently between essential hypertension and normokalaemic primary aldosteronism (sensitivity 57%, specificity 90%). Similarly, urinary tetrahydroaldosterone had higher sensitivity in hypokalaemic than in normokalaemic primary aldosteronism (sensitivity 64% vs 36%, specificity 100%), whereas for aldosterone-18-glucuronide, no differences in hypo- and normokalaemic primary aldosteronism were found (sensitivity 45% and 43%, specificity 100%).
Conclusions: These data show that the saline infusion test as an established test in classical hypokalaemic primary aldosteronism is not a reliable test in the normokalaemic variant of the disease. Due to its low accuracy, determination of urinary aldosterone metabolites did not prove useful in confirming either normo- or hypokalaemic patients. We conclude from our data that these tests should not be used as confirmatory testing in the normokalaemic variant of primary aldosteronism.