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C. Invitti, L. Danesi, A. Dubini and F. Cavagnini

Abstract. In 10 untreated epileptic patients, we evaluated the functional integrity of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis before and during chronic treatment with sodium valproate, a gamma-aminobutyric acid-mimetic compound. The GH response to L-dopa (250–500 mg po) was absent in 3 and severely impaired in 2 of the 10 patients though being, on the average, only slightly lower in the epileptic subjects than in normal controls. Conversely, the GH rise following GHRH (0.5 μg/kg body weight, iv) was normal in 9 of the patients. A significant blunting of the GH response to L-dopa occurred in the 7 patients initially responsive after 6 month of sodium valproate (P < 0.05). The GH response to GHRH also underwent an evident though not significant attenuation. The ACTH and the ACTH/cortisol elevations elicited by metyrapone (35 mg/kg body weight infused over 4 h), and by CRH (1 μg/kg body weight, iv), respectively, normal before treatment, were significantly impaired (P <0.05, <0.01) during antiepileptic therapy. Prolactin and TSH dynamics following metoclopramide (0.1 mg/kg body weight, iv) and TRH (200 μg iv) remained normal over the whole study period. Growth arrest ensued in 1 patient after 6 months of sodium valproate and disappeared after drug withdrawl. These observations point to a defective hypothalamic control of GH secretion in some epileptic patients. They also indicate that chronic administration of sodium valproate, hence activation of central gamma-aminobutyric acid system, results in a blunting of the stimulated GH and ACTH secretion. Occasionally, a reversible arrest of skeletal growth may also ensue.

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M. Peracchi, F. Cavagnini, A. E. Pontiroli, U. Raggi, A. Malinverni and M. Pinto


The effects of intravenously administered aminophylline on growth hormone (GH) secretion have been studied in sixteen normal subjects and four acromegalic patients.

Intravenous infusion of theophylline ethylenediamine 480 mg over a 30 min period did not alter the blood glucose and serum GH levels in six normal subjects but raised the plasma FFA by 88 %. By contrast, in four acromegalic patients theophylline administration resulted in a fall of the serum GH levels by 17.6–51.7 %, mean 36.5%. In ten normal subjects the infusion of the drug clearly blunted the GH response to insulin hypoglycaemia without modifying the decrease in blood glucose and plasma FFA induced by insulin: mean peak GH values decreased from 32.7 ± 3.39 to 21.4 ± 4.10 ng/ml (P < 0.025).

These data seem to indicate that theophylline has an overall inhibiting effect on the hypothalamic-hypophyseal axis for GH secretion.

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P Putignano, A Dubini, P Toja, C Invitti, S Bonfanti, G Redaelli, D Zappulli and F Cavagnini

OBJECTIVE: To compare salivary, plasma and urinary free cortisol (UFC) measurements in patients with anorexia nervosa, in whom an overdrive of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is well established but information on salivary cortisol is lacking, in viscerally obese patients in whom subtle abnormalities of cortisol secretion and metabolism are postulated, and in normal-weight healthy women. PARTICIPANTS AND EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: Measurement of salivary cortisol offers a convenient way to assess the concentrations of free, biologically active cortisol in plasma in different physiopathological settings. Forty-seven drug-free, newly diagnosed women with active restrictive anorexia nervosa, 30 restrictive anorexic women undergoing chronic psychopharmacological treatment, 47 women with mild-to-moderate visceral obesity, 103 women with severe central obesity and 63 normal-weight healthy women entered the study. Salivary and blood samples were collected at 0800 h, 1700 h and 2400 h, together with three consecutive 24-h urine specimens for UFC determination. In controls and patients with anorexia nervosa (n=83), salivary and plasma cortisol were also measured after a 1-mg overnight dexamethasone suppression test (DST). In patients with anorexia nervosa, mood was rated by the Hamilton scale for anxiety and depression. RESULTS: Untreated patients with anorexia nervosa showed increased plasma and salivary cortisol and UFC concentrations (all P<0.001 compared with controls), and decreased cortisol suppression after DST in plasma and saliva (P<0.0001 and P<0.005 respectively compared with controls). These alterations were less pronounced, although still statistically significant, in treated patients with anorexia nervosa. Salivary cortisol was highly correlated with paired plasma cortisol in the whole population and after splitting the participants by group (P<0.0001). However, for plasma cortisol values greater than 500 nmol/l (the corticosteroid-binding globulin saturation point), this parallelism was lost. Taking plasma cortisol as a reference, the level of agreement for post-dexamethasone salivary and plasma cortisol was 58.9% among suppressors and 77.8% among non-suppressors (chi2 test: P<0.01). Decreased 0800 h/2400 h cortisol ratios were observed in plasma and saliva in drug-free patients with anorexia nervosa (P<0.005 and P<0.05 respectively compared with controls), and in saliva in severely obese patients (P<0.05 compared with controls). Depression and anxiety scores were unrelated to cortisol concentrations in any compartment. CONCLUSIONS: Salivary cortisol measurement is a valuable and convenient alternative to plasma cortisol measurement. It enables demonstration of the overdrive of the HPA axis in anorexia nervosa and subtle perturbations of the cortisol diurnal rhythm in women with visceral obesity. With the establishment of more specific and widely acceptable cut-off values for dynamic testing, measurement of salivary cortisol could largely replace plasma cortisol measurement.

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F. Cavagnini, A. Di Landro, C. Maraschini, C. Invitti and M. L. Pinto


The aim of this study was to investigate the possible role of prostaglandins (PG) in the control of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis in normal volunteers. Acute oral administration of 100 mg indomethacin (ID) or 1.5 g acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) did not alter ACTH and cortisol plasma levels. Administration of 300 mg daily ID for 4 days delayed the onset, but increased the magnitude, of the response of ACTH to insulin hypoglycaemia, while it blunted the cortisol response. Administration of 3.2 g ASA daily depressed ACTH response to hypoglycaemia leaving the cortisol response unchanged, except for a 15 min delay in onset. These results are interpreted assuming that ID and ASA chiefly acted at the pituitary and hypothalamic level, respectively, and that ID, but not ASA, interfered with adrenocortical cortisol production. Our findings support the concept, based on animal studies, that PG enhance hypothalamic CRF release and adrenocortical steroidogenesis and may restrain ACTH secretion in the pituitary.

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A Colao, A Faggiano, R Pivonello, FP Giraldi, F Cavagnini and G Lombardi

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of inferior petrosal sinus sampling (IPSS) in the differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome as compared with pituitary imaging techniques. DESIGN AND METHODS: We retrospectively studied the diagnostic accuracy of basal and post corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) IPSS, magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography in distinguishing pituitary from ectopic ACTH secretion in 97 Cushing's syndrome patients: 74 with Cushing's disease (CD) and 10 with ectopic ACTH secretion (EAS). Thirteen patients were excluded because of unconfirmed diagnosis. The difference between IPSS and pituitary imaging techniques in the correctly localized pituitary adenoma in the patients with CD was also investigated. RESULTS: The basal ACTH inferior petrosal sinus:periphery (IPS:P) ratio was > or = 2 in 63/74 patients with CD (85%), and in 1/10 EAS patients (10%); after stimulation with CRH, the ratio was > or = 3 in 60/68 patients with CD (88%) and < 3 in all patients with EAS. The basal and post-CRH ACTH IPS:P ratios had a diagnostic accuracy of 86% and 90% respectively. The diagnostic accuracy of IPSS with both ratios was significantly higher than magnetic resonance imaging (50%) and computed tomography (40%). The IPS:P ratio suggested by receiver-operator characteristic (ROC) analysis that better distinguished CD from EAS was 2.10 for the basal and 2.15 for the post-CRH ratios. Using these cut-offs, the specificity of basal ratio and the sensitivity of the post-CRH test rose to 100% and 93% respectively. Diagnostic accuracy remained substantially unchanged for the basal ratio (87% vs 86%), while it rose from 90% to 94% for the post-CRH ratio. The sensitivity of IPSS was significantly higher than that of magnetic resonance and computerized tomography. IPSS was less reliable in identifying the adenoma site found at surgery than magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography (65% vs 75% and 79% respectively). CONCLUSION: In conclusion, IPSS improved the diagnostic performance of imaging techniques. It can help in excluding transsphenoidal surgery in EAS patients. More striking results were obtained when a > or = 2.1:1 basal ratio or a > or = 2.15:1 post-CRH ratio were considered as criteria to distinguish between patients with CD and EAS. To establish correctly the location of the pituitary adenoma, IPSS is less reliable than imaging techniques.

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AI Pincelli, AE Rigamonti, M Scacchi, SG Cella, M Cappa, F Cavagnini and EE Muller

OBJECTIVE: Changes in GH/IGF-I axis activity occur in both anorexia nervosa (AN) and obesity (OB). A GH hypersecretory state with very low plasma IGF-I levels is present in AN, whereas in morbid OB, GH secretion is dull and plasma IGF-I levels are generally preserved. Endogenous GHRH activity in AN and OB has never been directly studied, although indirect evidence would indicate that GHRH function is altered in either condition, possibly enhanced and reduced respectively. Somatostatin (SS) infusion withdrawal (SSIW) is followed by a rebound rise of plasma GH in animals and humans, an event which, allegedly, is mediated by endogenous GHRH release. METHODS: In the present study, 28 young women, eight with active AN (A-AN), six with AN in the recovery phase (R-AN), eight with morbid OB, and six healthy age-matched normal weight subjects (NW), were studied. All subjects underwent, on different occasions, the following two tests: (i) acute GHRH injection (1 microg/kg, i.v.); (ii) infusion of SS (9 microg/kg per h i.v. over 60 min), with blood samples drawn prior to and at different intervals after drug injections. Plasma GH levels were measured at each time interval in all sessions, and, in addition, baseline plasma estradiol, free triiodothyronine, TSH, IGF-I and insulin were measured at -30 min. RESULTS: Baseline plasma GH concentrations were significantly higher in A-AN than in NW (4.7+/-0.7 vs 2.1+/-0.6 microg/l, P<0.01). Baseline GH levels in R-AN were also higher than in NW, but the difference did not reach statistical significance (5.6+/-1.7 microg/l, not significant (NS)). Baseline plasma GH concentrations were significantly lower in OB than in NW (0.3+/-0.1 microg/l, P<0.01). GHRH-stimulated GH release was significantly higher in A-AN than in NW (mean change in area under the curve (DeltaAUC) 1904.9+/-626.1 vs 613.9+/-75.9 microg/l per min, P<0.01), whereas no statistically significant difference was present between R-AN and NW (mean DeltaAUC 638.2+/-293.0 microg/l per min, NS); in OB, GHRH failed to evoke a plasma GH rise (mean DeltaAUC 239.8+/-89.9 microg/l per min vs A-AN, R-AN, and NW, P<0.01). SS infusion markedly reduced plasma GH concentrations in both A-AN and R-AN and, to a lesser extent, in NW, but failed to do so in OB. In A-AN, SSIW was followed by a plasma GH rise markedly higher than that present in NW (mean DeltaAUC 193.0+/-42.3 vs 60.1+/-11.4 microg/l per min, P<0.01), whereas in R-AN the GH response after SSIW was nearly superimposable on that registered in NW (mean DeltaAUC 72.9+/-22.8 microg/l per min, NS). There were no changes in plasma GH levels after SSIW in OB (mean DeltaAUC 22.8+/-9.7 microg/l per min). In all groups, DeltaAUCs of the GH response to GHRH and after SSIW were highly positively correlated (r=0.7, P<0.01). CONCLUSIONS: These data support the view that a high endogenous GHRH tone, which subsides in the recovery phase of the disease, is present in AN, whereas GHRH hypofunction, possibly associated with pituitary impairment, might indicate OB.

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F. Cavagnini, C. Invitti, M. Pinto, C. Maraschini, A. Di Landro, A. Dubini and A. Marelli


A single oral dose of 5 g gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) was given to 19 subjects and serial venous blood samples were obtained before and 3 h after drug administration. A placebo was administered to 18 subjects who served as controls. GABA caused a significant elevation of plasma growth hormone levels (P < 0.001), but did not consistently alter plasma prolactin concentration since only 5 out of 15 subjects showed an increase of the hormone. Eight additional subjects were submitted to an insulin tolerance test before and after per os administration of 18 g GABA daily for 4 days. Protracted GABA treatment significantly blunted the response of growth hormone and enhanced that of prolactin to insulin hypoglycaemia (P < 0.01).

These results indicate that pharmacological doses of GABA affect growth hormone and prolactin secretion in man. The precise nature of GABA's effects as well as its mechanism of action remains to be clarified.

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E. E. Müller, F. Cavagnini, A. Martinez-Campos, C. Maraschini, P. Giovannini, A. Novelli and V. De Leo

Abstract. Prolactin (Prl) and growth hormone (GH) responses to different pharmacologic probes acting at the central nervous system (CNS) or the anterior pituitary (AP) level were evaluated in patients with distinct neuroendocrine disorders. Thirteen patients with Prl-secreting tumours (PST), 10 acromegalics (A) and 8 patients with hypothalamic lesions (HL), as assessed on clinical, radiological and surgical grounds, underwent on separate occasions acute testing with the opioid peptide FK 33-824 (0.5 mg iv), the indirect dopamine (DA) agonist nomifensine (NOM, 200 mg po), the DA receptor antagonist domperidone (DOM, 10 mg iv), TRH (200 μg iv) and insulin (ITT, 0.10-0.15 IU/kg iv). All patients were evaluated pre-surgery and 4 of them also post-surgery. Prl and GH were evaluated by RIA at different time intervals following treatments.

Peculiar features of Prl and GH response could be evidenced in the patients as follows: Prl: PST patients did not respond either to stimulation by FK 33-824 (12/13) or to inhibition by NOM, (9/10), but 2/8 and 4/12 of them did respond to DOM or TRH stimulation, respectively; 8/10 A and all of the HL patients did not suppress plasma Prl following NOM, but many of them did respond to FK 33-824 (6/10 A, 5/8 HL) and TRH (9/10 A, 6/8 HL); as for GH, PST patients could be divided into FK 33-824 responders (8/12) and non-responders, whereas in only one of the A and in none of the HL patients a consistent response to the peptide was present; a major difference between A and HL patients was the ability of TRH to elicit a GH rise in the former (8/10) but not the latter (0/6). In conclusion, concomitant application of different CNS- or AP-acting stimuli seems to enable better functional connotation of individual disorders, and hence, provide information of value for the underlying pathophysiology.

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S Melmed, F Casanueva, F Cavagnini, P Chanson, L A Frohman, R Gaillard, E Ghigo, K Ho, P Jaquet, D Kleinberg, S Lamberts, E Laws, G Lombardi, M C Sheppard, M Thorner, M L Vance, J A H Wass and A Giustina

In November 2003, the Pituitary Society and the European Neuroendocrine Association sponsored a consensus workshop in Seville to address challenging issues in the medical management of acromegaly. Participants comprised 70 endocrinologists and neurosurgeons with international expertise in managing patients with acromegaly. All participants participated in the workshop proceedings, and the final document written by the scientific committee reflects the consensus opinion of the interactive deliberations. The meeting was supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Ipsen. No pharmaceutical representatives participated in the program planning or in the scientific deliberations.

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M Arosio, G Reimondo, E Malchiodi, P Berchialla, A Borraccino, L De Marinis, R Pivonello, S Grottoli, M Losa, S Cannavò, F Minuto, M Montini, M Bondanelli, E De Menis, C Martini, G Angeletti, A Velardo, A Peri, M Faustini-Fustini, P Tita, F Pigliaru, G Borretta, C Scaroni, N Bazzoni, A Bianchi, M Appetecchia, F Cavagnini, G Lombardi, E Ghigo, P Beck-Peccoz, A Colao, M Terzolo and for the Italian Study Group of Acromegaly


To describe demographic and hormonal characteristics, comorbidities (diabetes mellitus and hypertension), therapeutic procedures and their effectiveness, as well as predictors of morbidity and mortality in a nationwide survey of Italian acromegalic patients.


Retrospective multicenter epidemiological study endorsed by the Italian Society of Endocrinology and performed in 24 tertiary referral Italian centers. The mean follow-up time was 120 months.


A total of 1512 patients, 41% male, mean age: 45±13 years, mean GH: 31±37 μg/l, IGF1: 744±318 ng/ml, were included. Diabetes mellitus was reported in 16% of cases and hypertension in 33%. Older age and higher IGF1 levels at diagnosis were significant predictors of diabetes and hypertension. At the last follow-up, 65% of patients had a controlled disease, of whom 55% were off medical therapy. Observed deaths were 61, with a standardized mortality ratio of 1.13 95% (confidence interval (CI): 0.87–1.46). Mortality was significantly higher in the patients with persistently active disease (1.93; 95% CI: 1.34–2.70). Main causes of death were vascular diseases and malignancies with similar prevalence. A multivariate analysis showed that older age, higher GH at the last follow-up, higher IGF1 levels at diagnosis, malignancy, and radiotherapy were independent predictors of mortality.


Pretreatment IGF1 levels are important predictors of morbidity and mortality in acromegaly. The full hormonal control of the disease, nowadays reached in the majority of patients with modern management, reduces greatly the disease-related mortality.