Objective: In autoimmune polyglandular syndrome types 1, 2, and 4 primary adrenal insufficiency is present, but its diagnosis is often late. We investigated the function of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis in a group of patients with autoimmune diseases (AP) without any symptoms and signs of hypoadrenalism.
Design: In 10 AP and 12 normal subjects (NS), we studied cortisol (F), aldosterone (A), and DHEA responses to 0.06 μg adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) (1–24) followed by 250 μg, ACTH and F responses to human corticotropin-releasing hormone (hCRH; 100 μg) and insulin tolerance test (ITT) (0.1 UI/kg).
Results: Basal F, A, DHEA, as well as urinary free cortisol and plasma renin activity levels in AP and NS were similar, whereas ACTH levels in AP were higher (P<0.05) than in NS. NS showed F, A, and DHEA response to both consecutive ACTH doses. In AP, the F, A, and DHEA responses to 250 μg ACTH were similar to those in NS, whereas the 0.06 μg ACTH dose did not elicit any significant response. The ACTH responses to hCRH and ITT in AP were higher (P<0.05) than in NS. The F response to hCRH in AP was lower (P<0.05) than in NS, whereas the F response to ITT in AP did not significantly differ from NS.
Conclusions: Enhancement of both basal and stimulated corticotrope secretion coupled with reduced adrenal sensitivity to low ACTH dose is present in AP patients without symptoms and signs of hypoadrenalism. This functional picture suggests that normal adrenal secretion is maintained due to corticotrope hyperfunction, suggesting the existence of some subclinical primary hypoadrenalism.