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E. Brambilla, F. Petraglia, F. Facchinetti and A. R. Genazzani

Abstract. Anomalous anterior pituitary hormone responses to acute administration of TRH and LRH have previously been observed in patients with primary affective disorders (PAD), with TRH eliciting GH, FSH and LH rises, and LRH eliciting GH and Prl rises. We examined whether the same unusual responses were present also for beta-endorphin (β-EP) and beta-lipotropin (β-LPH) in 15 PAD patients, in 9 patients with secondary affective disorders (SAD), and in 7 controls. TRH (500 ug iv) elicited rises of β-EP plasma levels in 5 PAD and 2 SAD patients, and of β-LPH in 4 PAD and 3 SAD patients. LRH (150 ug iv) elicited rises of plasma β-EP levels in 2 PAD and 2 SAD patients, and of β-LPH in 5 PAD and 2 SAD patients. No rises of β-EP and β-LPH plasma levels were observed in PAD patients after saline administration, nor in the controls after TRH, LRH or saline administration.

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F. Facchinetti, C. Livieri, F. Petraglia, L. Cortona, F. Severi and A. R. Genazzani

Abstract. In order to evaluate the origin of hyperendorphinaemia in obese patients, plasma B-endorphin (B-EP), B-lipotropin (B-LPH) and cortisol levels were measured in basal conditions and after overnight treatment with 1 mg of dexamethasone. Thirteen obese children (weight excess ranging from 44 to 100%) and 10 normal weight controls were studied. Weight gain started in prepuberty and could not be explained by concurrent diseases. Hormone levels were measured by RIA, either directly in the plasma (cortisol) or after silicic acid extraction and Sephadex G-75 column chromatography (B-EP and B-LPH). Basal B-EP levels in the obese children (19.4 ± 4.9 pmol/l, mean ± sem) were significantly higher than in the controls (7.8 ± 1.2, P < 0.01), whereas B-LPH and cortisol was within normal range. In the controls, post-dexamethasone morning and afternoon hormone levels were significantly suppressed. In the obese children, B-EP concentrations remained unaffected by the treatment (14.6 ± 5.3 and 14.9 ± 5.2 at 08.00 and 16.00 h, respectively), whereas both B-LPH and cortisol values were significantly decreased. These data demonstrate that a short-term dexamethasone treatment is unable to correct the increased B-EP levels which characterize obese children, whereas it is effective on B-LPH and cortisol concentrations. It can be concluded that circulating B-EP in this condition loses the control of CRH. However, the origin of hyperendorphinaemia in obese patients still remains to be investigated.

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F. Petraglia, C. Barletta, F. Facchinetti, F. Spinazzola, A. Monzani, D. Scavo and A. R. Genazzani

Abstract. Acute physical exercise stimulates the activity of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis in man. In the present study we measured plasma adrenocorticotropin, beta-endorphin, beta-lipotropin and cortisol levels in 27 male trained athletes in basal conditions, 60 min before and immediately after an official competition. The endocrine responses were evaluated in different groups of athletes participating in races (100 m, 1500 m, 10 000 m) or in the disc throw. The athletes competing for the runs showed a statistically significant increase in plasma adrenocorticotropin, beta-endorphin, beta-lipotropin and cortisol levels after the race (P <0.01), whereas the disc throwers showed no significant change in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis hormones after the competition. The percent increase in plasma adrenocorticotropin, beta-endorphin, beta-lipotropin and cortisol was higher in the athletes who run 1500 m and 10 000 m than in those participating in the short distance race (100 m). The present results showed that plasma proopiomelanocortin-related peptides and cortisol levels increase in trained athletes following running competition and that this increase is related to the duration of the physical exercise.

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S Luisi, P Florio, D D'Antona, FM Severi, F Sanseverino, S Danero and F Petraglia

OBJECTIVE: From early gestation the human trophoblast secretes large amounts of inhibin A and activin A, and their measurement provides a value for predicting the outcome in women who become pregnant after assisted reproductive techniques. The aim of the study was to investigate the putative role of maternal serum inhibin A and activin A levels as markers of a viable trophoblast in women who miscarry. DESIGN: Controlled cross-sectional study. METHODS: One group consisted of 65 healthy pregnant women (controls), progressing to deliver a healthy singleton baby and another group consisted of 54 miscarriages (38 incomplete (27 non-viable, 11 anembryonic pregnancies) and 16 complete). Maternal blood samples were collected between 5 and 12 weeks of gestation. RESULTS: Serum human chorionic gonadotrophin concentrations in women with incomplete or complete miscarriages were significantly (both P<0.001) lower than in controls; activin A levels being lowest only in women with a complete miscarriage (P<0.001). On the other hand, inhibin A levels were significantly lower in incomplete or complete miscarriage than in controls (both P<0.0001). CONCLUSIONS: Maternal serum inhibin A, but not activin A, determination reflects the lack of a viable trophoblast in complete miscarriage.

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P Monteleone, S Luisi, A Tonetti, F Bernardi, AD Genazzani, M Luisi, F Petraglia and AR Genazzani

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate basal allopregnanolone and progesterone in both phases of the menstrual cycle in women suffering from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and their response to a GnRH test. DESIGN: We selected 56 women (28 patients with PMS and 28 controls) aged between 18 and 32 years. Blood samples were drawn in both follicular and phases. Twenty-eight women (14 patients with PMS and 14 controls) underwent a GnRH test in the luteal phase. METHODS: We evaluated allopregnanolone by RIA, using a specific antibody. Serum progesterone and oestradiol were determined using a commercially available RIA kit. RESULTS: Luteal phase allopregnanolone concentrations were significantly lower in patients with PMS than in controls. Progesterone concentrations were significantly lower in patients with PMS in both the follicular and the luteal phase. Serum oestradiol concentrations were in the normal range in both groups of women, although slightly greater in those with PMS. Allopregnanolone and progesterone responses to a GnRH test were significantly blunted in women with PMS. CONCLUSIONS: Diminished concentrations of allopregnanolone and progesterone, its precursor, and a blunted response to the GnRH test lead us to hypothesise that patients with PMS may suffer from an inadequate production of ovarian neuroactive steroids, especially in the luteal phase. This would lead to an impaired anxiolytic GABA(A)-mediated response in stressful physiological and psychological conditions, and may in part explain various psychoneuroendocrine symptoms that arise during PMS.

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To further evaluate the role exerted by endogenous opioids on LH secretion a naloxone challenge (0.08 mg/Kg b.w. i.v.) was performed in 23 healthy children at different stages of puberty, in 5 adolescents in different period of menstrual cycle, in 3 case of idiopathic precocious puberty (PP), in 7 cases of delayed puberty (DP), in 4 females affected by hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (HH) and in 6 patients affected by polycystic ovary disease (PCOD). Naloxone does not induce any significant change on LH plasma levels in prepubertal helathy children and in all the cases of PP and DP. Similarly there was no LH response in healthy adolescents neither in HH nor in PCOD, the response to naloxone appears only in preovulary and luteal phases. These data indicate that the central opioid system regulating LH secretion in humans is active only at more advanced stages of puberty and it does not seem to play a role in the beginning of sexual maturation. Moreover gonadal steroids seem to play a fundamental modulatory role on opioid-controlled LH secretion.

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S. Bernasconi, F. Petraglia, L. Iughetti, C. Marcellini, A. Lamborghini, F. Facchinetti and A. R. Genazzani

Abstract. In order to evaluate the secretion of betaendorphin in obese children and adolescents, we measured plasma beta-endorphin, ACTH and cortisol levels before and following administration of CRH (1 μg/kg). Fourteen normal weight and 22 obese subjects (weight excess ranging from 30 to 98%) were studied. Plasma hormone levels were measured by radioimmunoassay directly in plasma (cortisol, ACTH) and after silicic acid extraction and Sephadex G-75 column chromatography (beta-endorphin). Basal beta-endorphin levels in obese children were significantly higher than in controls (14.7 ± 1.8 vs 6.0 ± 0.6 pmol/l; mean ± sem). No differences were found in basal ACTH and cortisol levels. CRH administration significantly increased beta-endorphin, ACTH and cortisol levels in normal subjects and ACTH and cortisol levels in obese subjects. Plasma beta-endorphin levels in obese children and adolescents did not show any significant increment. These data confirm the higher than normal beta-endorphin plasma levels in obese subjects in childhood and demonstrate that CRH is unable to increase beta-endorphin levels, suggesting an impairment of the hypothalamo-pituitary control mechanisms or an extra-anterior pituitary source.

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F. Facchinetti, A. Grasso, F. Petraglia, D. Parrini, A. Volpe and A. R. Genazzani

Abstract. The circadian rhythm of plasma proopiocortin-related peptides was studied in 15 heroin addicts and in 6 sex- and age-matched controls. ACTH, β-lipotrophin, (β-LPH), β-endorphin (β-EP) and cortisol were measured by RIA either directly (cortisol), or after plasma extraction (ACTH) and Sephadex G-75 gel chromatography (β-LPH and β-EP) every 4 h from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and again at 8 a. m. the next morning.

The means of the two 8 a.m. measurements of β-LPH (2.67 ± 0.34 fmol/ml, mean ± se), ACTH (2.74 ± 0.71) and cortisol (218 ± 31 pmol/ml) levels in heroin addicts were significantly lower than those in controls (6.28 ± 0.61, 10.1 ± 0.74 and 364 ± 27, respectively, P < 0.01) while β-EP concentrations in heroin addicts (5.1 ± 0.6) were similar to those of healthy volunteers (6.44 ± 0.56). In controls, all three peptides and cortisol show a circadian rhythm of secretion, the lowest values being in the evening and the highest ones in the morning. Heroin addicts partially lack this phenomenon showing constant levels of the three proopiocortin-related peptides throughout the day, with a slight but significant decrease of plasma cortisol.

In the 7 subjects who took heroin throughout the study, no systematic changes were observed in the three proopiocortin-related peptides, while it seems that this group of addicts shows a cortisol decrease in the evening to a lesser extent than subjects receiving methadone maintenance only.

These data show a decreased basal β-LPH, ACTH and cortisol secretion in heroin addicts, despite normal β-EP levels. This would indicate that anterior pituitary proopiocortin synthesis and/or secretion is affected in these subjects, and that there is also some impairment in the structures controlling the circadian rhythmicity of ACTH and related peptides.

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L Cobellis, P Cataldi, FM Reis, G De Palo, F Raspagliesi, S Pilotti, F Arcuri and F Petraglia

OBJECTIVE: Inhibin and activin are proteins produced by ovarian granulosa cells and testicular Sertoli cells and are members of the transforming growth factor-beta superfamily. Since increased circulating levels of immunoreactive inhibin were detected in women with malignant ovarian tumors, they were proposed as tumor markers for ovarian carcinoma. Immunohistochemical studies later confirmed the presence of inhibin and activin subunits in granulosa cell tumors and epithelial ovarian cancer, as well as in Sertoli and Leydig cell testicular cancer. However, there is discrepant information on the detection of inhibin and activin in malignant germ cell tumors (MGCT). The aim of the present study was to evaluate the immunohistochemical expression of the inhibin/activin alpha, betaA and betaB subunits in ovarian and testicular MGCT specimens using polyclonal antisera. METHODS: The ovarian tissue samples were composed of 19 MGCT, including dysgerminoma (n=18) and yolk sac tumor (n=1). The testis specimens included classic seminomas (n=20), embryonal carcinomas (n=7), choriocarcinomas (n=2), and yolk sac tumor (n=1). RESULTS: Ovarian and testicular malignant germ cell tumors expressed positive staining for inhibin/activin alpha, betaA and betaB subunits, with some variations between and within individual tumors: while ovarian dysgerminomas were diffusely positive for alpha, betaA and betaB, testicular tumors expressed alpha and betaB subunits, whereas betaA staining was weak. CONCLUSIONS: The present results show positive staining for inhibin/activin subunits in ovarian and testicular MGCT, suggesting a possible role in tumorigenesis with the resultant clinical implication.