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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.

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G Aimaretti, C Baffoni, L DiVito, S Bellone, S Grottoli, M Maccario, E Arvat, F Camanni and E Ghigo

Classical provocative stimuli of GH secretion such as insulin-induced hypoglycaemia, arginine, clonidine, glucagon and levodopa have been widely used in clinical practice for approximately 30 years. On the other hand, in the last 10 years new potent stimuli of GH secretion have been proposed, but an extensive comparison with the classical ones has rarely been performed, at least in adults. In order to compare the GH-releasing activity of old and new provocative stimuli of GH secretion, and to define the normative values of the GH response, in 178 normal adults (95 males, 83 females; age range: 20-50 years, all within +/-15% of their ideal body weight), we studied the GH response to: insulin-induced hypoglycaemia (ITT, 0.1IU/kg i.v.), arginine (ARG, 0.5g/kg i.v.), clonidine (CLO, 300 microg/kg p.o.), glucagon (GLU, 1mg i.m.), pyridostigmine (PD, 120mg p.o.), galanin (GAL, 80pmol/kg per min), GH-releasing hormone (GHRH, 1 microg/kg i.v.), GHRH+ARG, GHRH+PD, hexarelin, a GH-releasing protein (HEX, 2 microg/kg i.v.) and GHRH+HEX (0.25 microg/kg i.v.). The mean (+/-s.e.m.) peak GH response to ITT (21.8+/-2.8, range: 3.0-84.0 microg/l) was similar to those to ARG (18.0+/-1.6, range: 2.9-39.5 microg/l) or GLU (20. 5+/-2.2, range: 10.6-36.9 microg/l) which, in turn, were higher (P<0. 001) than those to CLO (8.2+/-1.6, range: 0.3-21.5 microg/l), PD (9. 6+/-1.1, range: 2.2-33.0 microg/l) and GAL (9.3+/-1.1, range: 3.9-18. 3 microg/l). The GH response to GHRH (19.1+/-1.5, range: 2.7-55.0 microg/l) was similar to those after ITT, ARG or GLU but clearly lower than those after GHRH+ARG (65.9+/-5.5, range: 13.8-171.0 microg/l) and GHRH+PD (50.2+/-4.6, range: 17.7-134.5 microg/l) which, in turn, were similar. The GH response to HEX (55.3+/-5.5, range: 13.9-163.5 microg/l) was similar to those after GHRH+ARG and GHRH+PD but lower (P<0.001) than that after GHRH+HEX (86.0+/-4.3, range: 49. 0-125.0 microg/l) which was the most potent stimulus of GH secretion. In this adult population the third centile limits of peak GH response to various stimuli were the following: ITT: 5.3; ARG: 2.9; CLO: 1.5; GLU: 7.6; PD: 2.2; GAL: 4.0; GHRH: 5.0; GHRH+ARG: 17.8; GHRH+PD: 17.9; HEX: 21.6; GHRH+HEX: 57.1. These results confirm that, among classical provocative tests of GH secretion, ITT followed by ARG and GLU are the most potent ones and possess clear limits of normality. GHRH+ARG or PD and HEX are strong stimuli of GH secretion which, however, is maximally stimulated by a combination of GHRH and a low dose of HEX. It is recommended that each test is used with appropriate cut-off limits.

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E Ghigo, E Arvat, L Gianotti, S Grottoli, G Rizzi, GP Ceda, MF Boghen, R Deghenghi and F Camanni

Ghigo E, Arvat E, Gianotti L, Grottoli S. Rizzi G, Ceda GP, Boghen MF, Deghenghi R, Camanni F. Shortterm administration of intranasal or oral Hexarelin, a synthetic hexapeptide. does not desensitize the growth hormone responsiveness in human aging. Eur J Endocrinol 1996;135:417–12. ISSN 0804–4643

The function of the growth hormone–insulin-like growth factor I (GH–IGF-I) axis is reduced in aging, although the secretory capacity of somatotrope cells is preserved. Previous studies have suggested that continuous administration of GH-releasing peptides (GHRPs) results in homologous desensitization to the GH-releasing effect of the peptides. In the present study we have studied whether healthy elderly subjects would remain responsive to short-term, intermittent treatment with Hexarelin (HEX), a GHRP, and whether this treatment would result in an increase in serum IGF-I. In study I, the effect of an 8-day treatment with intranasal administration of 1.25 mg (about 18 μg/kg) t.i.d. HEX on the acute GH response to the hexapeptide and on serum IGF-I, IGF binding protein 3 (IGFBP-3), prolactin and cortisol levels was studied in seven elderly subjects (four males and three females, aged 67–80 years). In study II, the same parameters were studied before and after a 15-day treatment with oral administration of 20 mg (about 300 μg/kg) t.i.d. HEX in seven elderly women (aged 63–80 years). The GH response to the intranasal HEX administration was not significantly higher than that induced by 1 μg/kg iv GHRH (229.4± 35.9 vs 145.8 ± 26.9 μg·1−1·h−1) and was maintained with a trend towards increase after an 8-day treatment with the peptide (342.5 ± 199.3 μg·1−1·h−1). On the other hand, HEX treatment did not significantly modify IGF-I (138.7 ± 11.1 vs 122.4 ± 14.1 μg/l) but increased IGFBP-3 levels (2.4 ± 0.2 vs 1.6 ± 0.2 mg/l, p < 0.02). The GH response to the oral HEX administration was also not significantly higher than that to iv GHRH (257.6 ± 72.0 vs 179.0 ±42.8 μg·1−1·h−1) and did not change after a 15-day treatment with the peptide (237.8±42.8 μg·1−1·h−1). Both IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels were slightly but significantly increased by oral HEX treatment (156.0 ± 10.7 vs 141.6 ± 13.6 μg/l. p< 0.03, 3.4 ±0.2 vs 3.1 ± 0.2 mg/l, p < 0.03, respectively). Neither intranasal nor oral HEX treatment modified PRL or cortisol levels and did not induce any side effect. In conclusion, these results indicate that chronic but intermittent treatment with HEX, administered either by intranasal or oral route, does not desensitize the GH response to the peptide. Moreover, after HEX treatment a trend towards increase was shown for IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels. Thus, our findings strengthen the hypothesis that prolonged treatment with HEX may restore the reduced GH release in aging.

F Camanni, Divisione di Endocrinologia. Ospedale Molinette. C. so Dogliotti 14, 10126 Torino. Italy

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F Broglio, A Benso, C Gottero, LD Vito, G Aimaretti, A Fubini, E Arvat, M Bobbio and E Ghigo

OBJECTIVE: Altered function of the GH/IGF-I axis in patients with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) has been reported. In fact, DCM patients show reduction of IGF-I levels, which could reflect slight peripheral GH resistance or, alternatively, reduced somatotroph secretion. Spontaneous GH secretion has been reported to be altered by some but not by other authors, whereas the GH response to GHRH, but not that to GH-releasing peptides, seems reduced in DCM patients. On the other hand, it is well known that the GH response to GHRH in humans is markedly potentiated by arginine (ARG), which probably acts via inhibition of hypothalamic somatostatin release; in fact the GHRH+ARG test is known as one of the most reliable to evaluate the maximal secretory capacity of somatotroph cells. METHODS: In order to further clarify the somatotroph function in DCM, in well-nourished patients with DCM (34 male, 4 female; age (mean+/-s.e. m.) 57.8+/-1.1 years; body mass index (BMI) 24.6+/-0.6kg/m(2); left ventricular ejection fraction 23.2+/-1.6%; New York Heart Association classification I/1, II/17, III/18, IV/2) we studied the GH response to GHRH (1.0 microgram/kg i.v.) alone or combined with ARG (0.5g/kg i.v.). The results in DCM patients were compared with those in age-matched control subjects (CS) (39 male, 7 female; age 58.9+/-1.0 years; BMI 23.2+/-0.3kg/m(2)). RESULTS: Mean IGF-I levels in DCM patients were lower than in CS (144.3+/-6.9 vs 175.1+/-8. 4 microgram/l, P<0.05) whereas basal GH levels were similar in both groups (1.7+/-0.3 vs 1.7+/-0.3 microgram/l). The GH response to GHRH in DCM patients was lower (P<0.05) than that in CS (GH peak 6.5+/-1.2 vs 10.7+/-2.1 microgram/l). In both groups the GH response to GHRH+ARG was higher (P<0.001) than that to GHRH alone. However, the GH response to GHRH+ARG in DCM patients remained clearly lower (P<0.01) than that in CS (18.3+/-3.2 vs 34.1+/-4.6 microgram/l). The GH response to GHRH alone and combined with ARG was not associated with the severity of the disease. CONCLUSION: DCM patients show blunted GH responses to GHRH both alone and combined with ARG. Evidence that ARG does not restore the GH response to GHRH in DCM patients makes it unlikely that the somatotroph hyporesponsiveness to the neurohormone reflects hyperactivity of hypothalamic somatostatinergic neurons.

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R Giordano, A Picu, L Bonelli, F Broglio, F Prodam, S Grottoli, G Muccioli, E Ghigo and E Arvat

Object: Somatostatin (SS) is known to inhibit GH and insulin, while its effect on corticotrope secretion is controversial: inhibition of ACTH secretion by agonists activating somatostatinergic receptors (sst)-2 and sst-5 was reported in vitro. Cortistatin (CST) not only binds all sst receptor subtypes but also possesses central actions that are not shared by SS.

Design: In nine patients with Cushing’s disease (CD), ACTH, cortisol, GH, insulin, and glucose levels were studied during 120-min i.v. infusion of SS-14 (2.0 μg/kg per h), CST-17 (2.0 μg/kg per h) or saline.

Results: Both SS or CST significantly affected the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. Cortisol was decreased to the same extent by either SS or CST (P < 0.05). Both SS and CST decreased ACTH, although statistical difference was reached only during CST (P < 0.05). Analyzing the individual responses as Δareas under curve (ΔAUCs), a clear and consensual inhibition of ACTH and cortisol under either SS or CST was recorded in five out of nine patients. Both SS or CST inhibited (P < 0.05) insulin, that even showed a rebound (P < 0.01) at the end of infusion. GH was not modified by either peptide.

Conclusion: SS and CST often display similar inhibitory effects on the HPA axis in CD. The activation of sst receptors by both peptides is followed in almost 50% of patients by a remarkable inhibition of ACTH and cortisol hypersecretion. These findings reinforce the view that sst receptors are involved in the control of the secretory activity of tumoral corticotropic cells.

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A Benso, E Gramaglia, I Olivetti, M Tomelini, V Ramella Gigliardi, S Frara, E Calvi, S Belcastro, D H St Pierre, E Ghigo and F Broglio


GH secretion is regulated by an interplay between GH-releasing hormone (GHRH), somatostatin (SST), and other central and peripheral signals. Acylated ghrelin (AG) amplifies GH pulsatility acting, at least partially, independently from GHRH and SST. The GH response to GHRH is inhibited by recombinant human GH (rhGH), likely due to a SST-mediated negative GH auto-feedback. The effect of exogenous rhGH on the GH-releasing effect of AG has never been tested.

Design and methods

In six healthy volunteers, we studied the GH response to acute AG administration (1.0 μg/kg i.v.) during saline or rhGH infusion (4.0 μg/kg per h i.v.) or after 4-day rhGH (10.0 μg/kg s.c.) administration.


Compared with saline, rhGH infusion increased GH levels (P<0.01). During saline, acute i.v. AG induced a marked increase (P<0.01) in GH levels similar to those observed after AG administration during rhGH infusion. During s.c. rhGH, IGF1 levels rose from day 0 to day 5 (P<0.01). After 4-day s.c. rhGH, i.v. AG increased (P<0.01) GH levels, though significantly (P<0.05) less than on day 0.


The marked somatotroph-releasing effect of AG is refractory to a direct GH auto-feedback whereas is markedly inhibited after 4-day rhGH administration, suggesting the possibility of a selective IGF1-mediated inhibitory feedback.

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E Ghigo, GP Ceda, R Valcavi, S Goffi, M Zini, M Mucci, G Valenti, EE Muller and F Camanni

Ghigo E, Ceda GP, Valcavi R, Goffi S, Zini M, Mucci M, Valenti G, Muller EE, Camanni F. Effect of 15-day treatment with growth hormone-releasing hormone alone or combined with different doses of arginine on the reduced somatotrope responsiveness to the neurohormone in normal aging. Eur J Endocrinol 1995;132:32–6. ISSN 0804–4643

It is well known that both spontaneous and growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH)-stimulated GH secretion undergo an age-related decrease; in addition, there is supportive evidence that the GH hyposecretory state of aging is of hypothalamic origin. The aims of the study in 35 normal elderly subjects (20 males and 15 females aged 65–89 years) were to verify whether the low somatotrope responsiveness to GHRH (1 μg/kg) can be primed by a daily GHRH treatment and whether the potentiating effect of both high intravenous (0.5 g/kg) and low oral (8 g) doses of arginine (ARG) on GH response to GHRH is maintained with time. In group A (N = 14) the GH response to GHRH on day 1 (AUC: 373.5 ± 78.5 μg·1−1·h−1) was unchanged after 7 (3720 ± 38 μg·1−1·h−1) and 15 days (377.9 ± 63.8 μg·1−1·h−1) of daily GHRH administration. In group B (N = 6) the GH response to GHRH co-administered with iv ARG on day 1 (1614.2 ± 146.2 μg · 1−1 · h−1) was higher (p < 0.05) than that of GHRH alone (group A) and persisted unchanged after 7 (1514.7±366.5 μg·1−1·h−1) and 15 days (1631.7 ± 379.1 μg · 1−1 · h−1) of treatment. In group C (N = 15) the GH response to GHRH co-administered with oral ARG on day 1 (950.6 ± 219.4 μg·1−1 · h−1) was higher (p < 0.03) than that of GHRH alone (group A) but lower (p < 0.05) than that to GHRH plus iv ARG (group B). It was unchanged after 7 (816.2 ± 208.5 μg·1−1 · h−1) and 15 days (760.4 ± 165.0 μg · 1−1· h−1) of treatment; these responses were still higher (p < 0.05) than that to GHRH alone. Insulin-like growth factor I levels were not modified by any of the treatments. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that in normal aging the low somatotrope responsiveness to GHRH is not improved by prolonged treatment with the neurohormone but it is enhanced by the combined treatment with ARG and this effect does not vanish after a 15-day treatment period. The effect of ARG is present even after a low oral dose, although less markedly than after a high intravenous dose.

F Camanni, Divisione di Endocrinologia, Ospedale Molinette, C. so Dogliotti 14, 10126 Torino, Italy

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Ezio Ghigo, Stefania Goffi, Enrico Mazza, Emanuela Arvat, Massimo Procopio, Jaele Bellone, Eugenio E. Müller and Franco Camanni

Abstract. In normal adults, repeated GHRH administration leads to progressively decreasing somatotrope responses. To verify whether this GH secretory pattern also connotes normal growing children, we have studied the effects of two consecutive (every 120 min) 1 μg/kg iv GHRH boluses on GH release in normal adults (N = 7, age 23.2–30.6 years) children (N = 6, age 10.4–13.2 years). In the adults, the GH response to the second GHRH bolus (peak, mean ± sem: 2.9 ± 0.8 μg/l) was lower (P< 0.02) than that to the first bolus (15.9 ± 2.4 μg/l). Conversely, in children the GH response to the second GHRH bolus (25.6 ± 6.3 μg/l) overrode the first one (13.6 ± 6.5 μg/l), but this difference did not attain statistical significance. In adults cholinergic enhancement by pyridostigmine, a cholinesterase inhibitor, was previously shown to re-instate, even to potentiate somatotrope responsiveness to consecutive GHRH boluses. Thus, in 5 children GH response to repeated GHRH boluses was retested administering pyridostigmine (60 mg orally) 30 min before the second GHRH bolus. In these subjects, pyridostigmine failed significantly to potentiate the GH responsiveness to the second GHRH bolus (30.3 ± 4.6 vs 25.0 ± 7.6 μg/l). These data indicate that differently from in adults, in children repeated GHRH administration does not reduce somatotrope responsiveness and that cholinergic enhancement fails to potentiate GH responsiveness to the second GHRH bolus.

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V Gasco, G Corneli, G Beccuti, F Prodam, S Rovere, J Bellone, S Grottoli, G Aimaretti and E Ghigo

GH deficiency (GHD) in adults has to be shown by a single provocative test, provided that it is validated. Insulin tolerance test (ITT) has been indicated as the test of choice; now also glucagon test is validated and represents an alternative. The GHRH plus arginine (ARG) test and testing with GHRH plus a GH secretagogue are equally reliable diagnostic tools, and are now considered as ‘golden’ standards as ITT. Childhood-onset (CO) GHD needs retesting in late adolescence or young adulthood; this is a major clinical challenge and raises questions about the most appropriate method and cut-off value. Appropriate re-evaluation of GH status is represented by simple measurement of IGF1 concentration off rhGH treatment. Clearly, low IGF1 levels are evidence of persistent severe GHD in subjects with genetic GHD or panhypopituitarism. However, normal IGF1 levels never rule out severe GHD and CO-GHD with normal IGF1 levels must undergo a provocative test. The appropriate GH cut-off limit is specific for each provocative test. As shown by the ROC curve analysis, in late adolescents and young adults, the lowest normal GH peak response to ITT is 6.1 μg/l while that to GHRH+ARG test is 19.0 μg/l. These cut-off limits, however, are just indicative as being variable as a function of the assay used. No other test is validated for retesting. As GHRH+ARG test mostly explores the GH-releasable pool, normal GH response would be verified by a second ITT in order to rule out subtle hypothalamic defect.

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FM van der Toorn, JA Janssen, WW de Herder, F Broglio, E Ghigo and AJ van der Lely

INTRODUCTION: In an animal model of acromegaly (PEPCK-hGH transgenic mice), low systemic levels of ghrelin have been observed compared with normal mice. We hypothesized that systemic circulating ghrelin levels are also decreased in humans with active acromegaly and that the contribution of central ghrelin production to systemic ghrelin levels is minimal. OBJECTIVES: The aim of the present study was to investigate, in two subjects with active acromegaly, whether there are differences between systemic ghrelin levels and ghrelin concentrations in the petrosal sinus. DESIGN: We measured systemic and central ghrelin levels in these two acromegalic patients by bilateral simultaneous inferior petrosal sinus sampling. Central and systemic blood samples were drawn before and 1, 5, 10, 15 and 20 min after stimulation with GH-releasing hormone (GHRH). Ghrelin was measured with a commercially available radioimmunoassay. RESULTS: In one acromegalic subject, the baseline systemic and central ghrelin levels were within the same range as in two non-acromegalic obese subjects. No gradient could be observed between central and systemic ghrelin concentrations. Stimulation with GHRH did not change the ghrelin concentrations in this patient. In the other acromegalic subject, the systemic ghrelin levels were also in the same range as in two non-acromegalic obese subjects. However, in this subject, baseline ghrelin concentrations in the right inferior petrosal vein were considerably lower than the systemic ghrelin concentrations, indicating a peripheral over central gradient. Administration of GHRH induced a significant rise in central ghrelin concentrations in the right inferior petrosal vein. Ghrelin levels in the left inferior petrosal vein and systemic ghrelin levels were in the normal range and GHRH stimulation did not change these concentrations. CONCLUSIONS: The absence of a central over peripheral ghrelin gradient in these two acromegalics indicated that circulating ghrelin is mainly produced peripherally. Circulating systemic ghrelin levels were not decreased in these two subjects with active acromegaly.