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Open access

Silvia Parajes, Angel OK Chan, W M But, Ian T Rose, Angela E Taylor, Vivek Dhir, Wiebke Arlt, and Nils Krone

Context

Cytochrome P450 side-chain cleavage enzyme (CYP11A1) catalyses the first and rate-limiting step of steroidogenesis, the conversion of cholesterol to pregnenolone. CYP11A1 deficiency is commonly associated with adrenal insufficiency, and in 46,XY individuals, with variable degrees of disorder of sex development (DSD).

Patient and methods

The patient was born with hyperpigmentation, micropenis, penoscrotal hypospadias, and mild cryptorchidism. Biochemical and hormonal findings were normal except for low testosterone and low-borderline cortisol. However, no short synacthen test was undertaken. Development was unremarkable apart from an episode labeled as sepsis with documented hyperkalemia and elevated C-reactive protein at age 15 days. Diagnosis of 46,XY DSD was made at age 2.5 months. Progression of hyperpigmentation prompted further investigations and the diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency was established at 2 years with raised ACTH, normal renin activity, and failure of cortisol to respond to short synacthen test. Genetic analyses were performed. The novel CYP11A1 mutations were characterized in vitro and in silico.

Results

The patient was compound heterozygous for two novel CYP11A1 mutations, p.R360W and p.R405X. p.R360W retained 30–40% of wild-type activity. In silico analyses confirmed these findings and indicated that p.R405X is severe.

Conclusions

This study demonstrates the pathogenicity of two novel CYP11A1 mutations found in a patient with delayed diagnosis of CYP11A1 deficiency. Patients with partial deficiencies of steroidogenic enzymes are at risk to be misdiagnosed if adrenal function is not assessed. The adrenocortical function should be routinely assessed in all patients with DSD including severe hypospadias of unknown origin to prevent life-threatening adrenal crises.

Open access

Vasileios Chortis, Nicholas J Johal, Irina Bancos, Matthew Evans, Kassiani Skordilis, Peter Guest, Michael H Cullen, Emilio Porfiri, and Wiebke Arlt

Mitotane (o,p′DDD) is established in the adjuvant and advanced-stage treatment of adrenocortical carcinoma and counteracts both tumor growth and tumor-related steroid production. Both the adrenal glands and the gonads are steroidogenically active organs and share a common embryogenic origin. Here, we describe the effects of mitotane in two patients with metastatic Leydig cell tumor (LCT) of the testes and associated severe androgen excess (serum testosterone 93 and 88 nmol/L, respectively; male reference range 7–27 nmol/L). Both men suffered from severe restlessness, insomnia and irritability, which they described as intolerable and disrupting normal life activities. Urinary steroid profiling by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC–MS) confirmed excess androgen production and revealed concurrent overproduction of glucocorticoids and glucocorticoid precursors, which under physiological conditions are produced only by the adrenal glands but not by the gonads. In a palliative approach, they were commenced on mitotane, which achieved swift control of the hormone excess and the debilitating clinical symptoms, restoring normal quality of life. GC–MS demonstrated normalization of steroid production and decreased 5α-reductase activity, resulting in decreased androgen activation, and imaging demonstrated disease stabilization for 4–10 months. In conclusion, mitotane can be highly effective in controlling steroid excess in metastatic LCTs, with anti-tumor activity in some cases.

Free access

Wiebke Arlt, Stephanie E Baldeweg, Simon H S Pearce, and Helen L Simpson

We provide guidance on prevention of adrenal crisis during the global COVID-19 crisis, a time with frequently restricted access to the usual level of healthcare. Patients with adrenal insufficiency are at an increased risk of infection, which may be complicated by developing an adrenal crisis; however, there is currently no evidence that adrenal insufficiency patients are more likely to develop a severe course of disease. We highlight the need for education (sick day rules, stringent social distancing rules), equipment (sufficient glucocorticoid supplies, steroid emergency self-injection kit) and empowerment (steroid emergency card, COVID-19 guidelines) to prevent adrenal crises. In patients with adrenal insufficiency developing an acute COVID-19 infection, which frequently presents with continuous high fever, we suggest oral stress dose cover with 20 mg hydrocortisone every 6 h. We also comment on suggested dosing for patients who usually take modified release hydrocortisone or prednisolone. In patients with adrenal insufficiency showing clinical deterioration during an acute COVID-19 infection, we advise immediate (self-)injection of 100 mg hydrocortisone intramuscularly, followed by continuous i.v. infusion of 200 mg hydrocortisone per 24 h, or until this can be established, and administration of 50 mg hydrocortisone every 6 h. We also advise on doses for infants and children.

Free access

Jan Idkowiak, Gareth G Lavery, Vivek Dhir, Timothy G Barrett, Paul M Stewart, Nils Krone, and Wiebke Arlt

Adrenarche reflects the maturation of the adrenal zona reticularis resulting in increased secretion of the adrenal androgen precursor DHEA and its sulphate ester DHEAS. Premature adrenarche (PA) is defined by increased levels of DHEA and DHEAS before the age of 8 years in girls and 9 years in boys and the concurrent presence of signs of androgen action including adult-type body odour, oily skin and hair and pubic hair growth. PA is distinct from precocious puberty, which manifests with the development of secondary sexual characteristics including testicular growth and breast development. Idiopathic PA (IPA) has long been considered an extreme of normal variation, but emerging evidence links IPA to an increased risk of developing the metabolic syndrome (MS) and thus ultimately cardiovascular morbidity. Areas of controversy include the question whether IPA in girls is associated with a higher rate of progression to the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and whether low birth weight increases the risk of developing IPA. The recent discoveries of two novel monogenic causes of early onset androgen excess, apparent cortisone reductase deficiency and apparent DHEA sulphotransferase deficiency, support the notion that PA may represent a forerunner condition for PCOS. Future research including carefully designed longitudinal studies is required to address the apparent link between early onset androgen excess and the development of insulin resistance and the MS.

Free access

Irina Bancos, Shrikant Tamhane, Muhammad Shah, Danae A Delivanis, Fares Alahdab, Wiebke Arlt, Martin Fassnacht, and M Hassan Murad

Objective

To perform a systematic review of published literature on adrenal biopsy and to assess its performance in diagnosing adrenal malignancy.

Methods

Medline In-Process and Other Non-Indexed Citations, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trial were searched from inception to February 2016. Reviewers extracted data and assessed methodological quality in duplicate.

Results

We included 32 observational studies reporting on 2174 patients (39.4% women, mean age 59.8 years) undergoing 2190 adrenal mass biopsy procedures. Pathology was described in 1621/2190 adrenal lesions (689 metastases, 68 adrenocortical carcinomas, 64 other malignancies, 464 adenomas, 226 other benign, 36 pheochromocytomas, and 74 others). The pooled non-diagnostic rate (30 studies, 2013 adrenal biopsies) was 8.7% (95%CI: 6–11%). The pooled complication rate (25 studies, 1339 biopsies) was 2.5% (95%CI: 1.5–3.4%). Studies were at a moderate risk for bias. Most limitations related to patient selection, assessment of outcome, and adequacy of follow-up. Only eight studies (240 patients) could be included in the diagnostic performance analysis with a sensitivity and specificity of 87 and 100% for malignancy, 70 and 98% for adrenocortical carcinoma, and 87 and 96% for metastasis respectively.

Conclusions

Evidence based on small sample size and moderate risk of bias suggests that adrenal biopsy appears to be most useful in the diagnosis of adrenal metastasis in patients with a history of extra-adrenal malignancy. Adrenal biopsy should only be performed if the expected findings are likely to alter the management of the individual patient and after biochemical exclusion of catecholamine-producing tumors to help prevent potentially life-threatening complications.

Free access

Irina Bancos, Fares Alahdab, Rachel K Crowley, Vasileios Chortis, Danae A Delivanis, Dana Erickson, Neena Natt, Massimo Terzolo, Wiebke Arlt, William F Young Jr, and M Hassan Murad

Objective

Beneficial effects of adrenalectomy on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with subclinical Cushing’s syndrome (SCS) are uncertain. We sought to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis with the following objectives: (i) determine the effect of adrenalectomy compared with conservative management on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with SCS and (ii) compare the effect of adrenalectomy on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with SCS vs those with a nonfunctioning (NF) adrenal tumor.

Methods

MEDLINE In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, MEDLINE, EMBASE and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trial were searched on 17 November 2015. Reviewers extracted data and assessed methodological quality in duplicate.

Results

We included 26 studies reporting on 584 patients with SCS and 457 patients with NF adrenal tumors. Studies used different definitions of SCS. Patients with SCS undergoing adrenalectomy demonstrated an overall improvement in cardiovascular risk factors (61% for hypertension, 52% for diabetes mellitus, 45% for obesity and 24% for dyslipidemia). When compared with conservative management, patients with SCS undergoing adrenalectomy experienced improvement in hypertension (RR 11, 95% CI: 4.3–27.8) and diabetes mellitus (RR 3.9, 95% CI: 1.5–9.9), but not dyslipidemia (RR 2.6, 95% CI: 0.97–7.2) or obesity (RR 3.4, 95% CI: 0.95–12). Patients with NF adrenal tumors experienced improvement in hypertension (21/54 patients); however, insufficient data exist for comparison to patients with SCS.

Conclusions

Available low-to-moderate-quality evidence from heterogeneous studies suggests a beneficial effect of adrenalectomy on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with SCS overall and compared with conservative management.

Free access

Martin Fassnacht, Wiebke Arlt, Irina Bancos, Henning Dralle, John Newell-Price, Anju Sahdev, Antoine Tabarin, Massimo Terzolo, Stylianos Tsagarakis, and Olaf M Dekkers

By definition, an adrenal incidentaloma is an asymptomatic adrenal mass detected on imaging not performed for suspected adrenal disease. In most cases, adrenal incidentalomas are nonfunctioning adrenocortical adenomas, but may also represent conditions requiring therapeutic intervention (e.g. adrenocortical carcinoma, pheochromocytoma, hormone-producing adenoma or metastasis). The purpose of this guideline is to provide clinicians with best possible evidence-based recommendations for clinical management of patients with adrenal incidentalomas based on the GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) system. We predefined four main clinical questions crucial for the management of adrenal incidentaloma patients, addressing these four with systematic literature searches: (A) How to assess risk of malignancy?; (B) How to define and manage low-level autonomous cortisol secretion, formerly called ‘subclinical’ Cushing’s syndrome?; (C) Who should have surgical treatment and how should it be performed?; (D) What follow-up is indicated if the adrenal incidentaloma is not surgically removed?

Selected recommendations:

(i) At the time of initial detection of an adrenal mass establishing whether the mass is benign or malignant is an important aim to avoid cumbersome and expensive follow-up imaging in those with benign disease. (ii) To exclude cortisol excess, a 1mg overnight dexamethasone suppression test should be performed (applying a cut-off value of serum cortisol ≤50nmol/L (1.8µg/dL)). (iii) For patients without clinical signs of overt Cushing’s syndrome but serum cortisol levels post 1mg dexamethasone >138nmol/L (>5µg/dL), we propose the term ‘autonomous cortisol secretion’. (iv) All patients with ‘(possible) autonomous cortisol’ secretion should be screened for hypertension and type 2 diabetes mellitus, to ensure these are appropriately treated. (v) Surgical treatment should be considered in an individualized approach in patients with ‘autonomous cortisol secretion’ who also have comorbidities that are potentially related to cortisol excess. (vi) In principle, the appropriateness of surgical intervention should be guided by the likelihood of malignancy, the presence and degree of hormone excess, age, general health and patient preference. (vii) Surgery is not usually indicated in patients with an asymptomatic, nonfunctioning unilateral adrenal mass and obvious benign features on imaging studies. We provide guidance on which surgical approach should be considered for adrenal masses with radiological findings suspicious of malignancy. Furthermore, we offer recommendations for the follow-up of patients with adrenal incidentaloma who do not undergo adrenal surgery, for those with bilateral incidentalomas, for patients with extra-adrenal malignancy and adrenal masses and for young and elderly patients with adrenal incidentalomas

Open access

Jacqueline Dinnes, Irina Bancos, Lavinia Ferrante di Ruffano, Vasileios Chortis, Clare Davenport, Susan Bayliss, Anju Sahdev, Peter Guest, Martin Fassnacht, Jonathan J Deeks, and Wiebke Arlt

Objective

Adrenal masses are incidentally discovered in 5% of CT scans. In 2013/2014, 81 million CT examinations were undertaken in the USA and 5 million in the UK. However, uncertainty remains around the optimal imaging approach for diagnosing malignancy. We aimed to review the evidence on the accuracy of imaging tests for differentiating malignant from benign adrenal masses.

Design

A systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted.

Methods

We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane CENTRAL Register of Controlled Trials, Science Citation Index, Conference Proceedings Citation Index, and ZETOC (January 1990 to August 2015). We included studies evaluating the accuracy of CT, MRI, or 18F-fluoro-deoxyglucose (FDG)-PET compared with an adequate histological or imaging-based follow-up reference standard.

Results

We identified 37 studies suitable for inclusion, after screening 5469 references and 525 full-text articles. Studies evaluated the accuracy of CT (n=16), MRI (n=15), and FDG-PET (n=9) and were generally small and at high or unclear risk of bias. Only 19 studies were eligible for meta-analysis. Limited data suggest that CT density >10HU has high sensitivity for detection of adrenal malignancy in participants with no prior indication for adrenal imaging, that is, masses with ≤10HU are unlikely to be malignant. All other estimates of test performance are based on too small numbers.

Conclusions

Despite their widespread use in routine assessment, there is insufficient evidence for the diagnostic value of individual imaging tests in distinguishing benign from malignant adrenal masses. Future research is urgently needed and should include prospective test validation studies for imaging and novel diagnostic approaches alongside detailed health economics analysis.

Open access

Thang S Han, Nils Krone, Debbie S Willis, Gerard S Conway, Stefanie Hahner, D Aled Rees, Roland H Stimson, Brian R Walker, Wiebke Arlt, Richard J Ross, and the United Kingdom Congenital adrenal Hyperplasia Adult Study Executive (CaHASE)

Context

Quality of life (QoL) has been variously reported as normal or impaired in adults with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). To explore the reasons for this discrepancy we investigated the relationship between QoL, glucocorticoid treatment and other health outcomes in CAH adults.

Methods

Cross-sectional analysis of 151 adults with 21-hydroxylase deficiency aged 18–69 years in whom QoL (assessed using the Short Form Health Survey), glucocorticoid regimen, anthropometric and metabolic measures were recorded. Relationships were examined between QoL, type of glucocorticoid (hydrocortisone, prednisolone and dexamethasone) and dose of glucocorticoid expressed as prednisolone dose equivalent (PreDEq). QoL was expressed as z-scores calculated from matched controls (14 430 subjects from UK population). Principal components analysis (PCA) was undertaken to identify clusters of associated clinical and biochemical features and the principal component (PC) scores used in regression analysis as predictor of QoL.

Results

QoL scores were associated with type of glucocorticoid treatment for vitality (P=0.002) and mental health (P=0.011), with higher z-scores indicating better QoL in patients on hydrocortisone monotherapy (P<0.05). QoL did not relate to PreDEq or mutation severity. PCA identified three PCs (PC1, disease control; PC2, adiposity and insulin resistance and PC3, blood pressure and mutations) that explained 61% of the variance in observed variables. Stepwise multiple regression analysis demonstrated that PC2, reflecting adiposity and insulin resistance (waist circumference, serum triglycerides, homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance and HDL-cholesterol), related to QoL scores, specifically impaired physical functioning, bodily pain, general health, Physical Component Summary Score (P<0.001) and vitality (P=0.002).

Conclusions

Increased adiposity, insulin resistance and use of prednisolone or dexamethasone are associated with impaired QoL in adults with CAH. Intervention trials are required to establish whether choice of glucocorticoid treatment and/or weight loss can improve QoL in CAH adults.

Open access

Conor P Woods, Nicola Argese, Matthew Chapman, Christopher Boot, Rachel Webster, Vijay Dabhi, Ashley B Grossman, Andrew A Toogood, Wiebke Arlt, Paul M Stewart, Rachel K Crowley, and Jeremy W Tomlinson

Context

Up to 3% of US and UK populations are prescribed glucocorticoids (GC). Suppression of the hypothalamo–pituitary–adrenal axis with the potential risk of adrenal crisis is a recognized complication of therapy. The 250 μg short Synacthen stimulation test (SST) is the most commonly used dynamic assessment to diagnose adrenal insufficiency. There are challenges to the use of the SST in routine clinical practice, including both the staff and time constraints and a significant recent increase in Synacthen cost.

Methods

We performed a retrospective analysis to determine the prevalence of adrenal suppression due to prescribed GCs and the utility of a morning serum cortisol for rapid assessment of adrenal reserve in the routine clinical setting.

Results

In total, 2773 patients underwent 3603 SSTs in a large secondary/tertiary centre between 2008 and 2013 and 17.9% (n=496) failed the SST. Of 404 patients taking oral, topical, intranasal or inhaled GC therapy for non-endocrine conditions, 33.2% (n=134) had a subnormal SST response. In patients taking inhaled GCs without additional GC therapy, 20.5% (34/166) failed an SST and suppression of adrenal function increased in a dose-dependent fashion. Using receiver operating characteristic curve analysis in patients currently taking inhaled GCs, a basal cortisol ≥348 nmol/l provided 100% specificity for passing the SST; a cortisol value <34 nmol/l had 100% sensitivity for SST failure. Using these cut-offs, 50% (n=83) of SSTs performed on patients prescribed inhaled GCs were unnecessary.

Conclusion

Adrenal suppression due to GC treatment, particularly inhaled GCs, is common. A basal serum cortisol concentration has utility in helping determine which patients should undergo dynamic assessment of adrenal function.