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Cecilia Invitti, Francesca Pecori Giraldi, Antonella Dubini, Martina De Martin, and Francesco Cavagnini

Abstract.

The adrenal participation in the pathogenesis of polycystic ovary syndrome is still under debate. In order to reappraise androgen and glucocorticoid secretion in this disease, we measured serum androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulphate, total and free testosterone, sex hormone-binding globulin, LH, FSH, PRL, cortisol, corticosteroid-binding globulin, and urinary free cortisol in 45 women with polycystic ovary syndrome and 27 controls, subdivided in obese and normal-weight subjects. Androstenedione, total and free testosterone were significantly increased, whereas sex hormone-binding globulin tended to be reduced in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome compared with controls, reaching a significant difference between obese patients and matched controls. Free testosterone and sex hormone-binding globulin were significantly increased and reduced, respectively, in obese compared with normal-weight patients. Urinary free cortisol and serum corticosteroid-binding globulin were significantly increased (p<0.001) and decreased (p<0.005), respectively. Urinary free cortisol exceeded the upper limit of the normal range in 50% of our patients. No appreciable differences were found in PRL and cortisol levels. Besides confirming a hyperandrogenic state, our findings point to an overactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis with subsequent diminution of corticosteroid-binding globulin in polycystic ovary syndrome. They also indicate that urinary free cortisol is not a reliable index in differentiating polycystic ovary syndrome from Cushing's disease.

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Alberto Giacinto Ambrogio, Martina De Martin, Paola Ascoli, Francesco Cavagnini, and Francesca Pecori Giraldi

Objective

Glucocorticoids stimulate several steps in red blood cell (RBC) development; however, little is known on changes in erythroid parameters in patients with Cushing's disease. The aim of this study was to assess both RBC and white blood cell (WBC) parameters in a large cohort of patients with Cushing's disease and report on alterations in the active phase and after surgical remission.

Design and methods

A total of 80 patients with Cushing's disease (63 women and 17 men) were studied before and for up to 254 months' follow-up (mean follow-up 65.8±6.71 months) after pituitary/adrenal surgery. Details of blood counts were reviewed and compared with data obtained from a database of healthy subjects.

Results

The RBC counts and haemoglobin levels were low in men with active Cushing's disease (over 80% of values in the lowest quartile) and four patients were overtly anaemic, whereas erythrocyte counts and haemoglobin levels were evenly distributed across the normal range in women with active Cushing's disease. Low erythroid parameters were linked to hypogonadism in men with Cushing's disease. Recovery in erythroid parameters occurred slowly after remission of hypercortisolism in men, in parallel with improvements in testosterone levels. Over 50% of patients with active disease presented increased WBC counts, irrespective of gender, and prompt normalisation within 1 month after surgery.

Conclusions

Male patients with Cushing's disease present reduced RBC counts and haemoglobin levels, associated with low testosterone concentrations, which resolve over time after remission of hypercortisolism. Anaemia should therefore be regarded as another unfavourable feature in men with Cushing's disease.

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Massimo Scacchi, Federica Orsini, Agnese Cattaneo, Alice Grasso, Barbara Filippini, Francesca Pecori Giraldi, Letizia Maria Fatti, Mirella Moro, and Francesco Cavagnini

Background

The diagnosis of GH deficiency (GHD) in obese patients is complicated by the reduced GH secretion associated with overweight. A GH response to GHRH+arginine lower than 4.2 μg/l is currently considered indicative of GHD in obesity. The aim of the study was to investigate the effect of acute pharmacological blockade of lipolysis on the GH response to GHRH+arginine in obese patients.

Patients and methods

Two groups of patients were studied: 12 obese patients with proven GHD and 14 patients with essential obesity. On separate occasions, two tests were carried out in each patient: GHRH+arginine and GHRH+arginine preceded by acipimox.

Results

The mean GH peak after GHRH+arginine was significantly lower in hypopituitary patients than in subjects with essential obesity. Acipimox significantly increased the mean GH response in patients with essential obesity, but not in hypopituitary subjects. All hypopituitary patients and 7/14 patients with essential obesity displayed GH peaks lower than 4.2 μg/l after GHRH+arginine: the GH response to the test increased after acipimox pretreatment in five of these seven essentially obese subjects. After acipimox administration, free fatty acids (FFAs) significantly fell in both groups with comparable mean absolute decreases. All IGF1 values were normal in both groups of subjects.

Conclusions

Our study has demonstrated that the acipimox-induced acute reduction of circulating FFA levels increases mean somatotropin response to GHRH+arginine in patients with essential obesity, whereas it has no effect in hypopituitary subjects. The current criterion for the diagnosis of GHD in obese patients may be misleading. Indeed, subjects affected by third degree obesity, like most of our patients, may be erroneously classified as really GH-deficient and started on an expensive unjustified treatment. It appears therefore that the current criteria for the diagnosis of GHD in obesity should be reconsidered in the light of further studies also taking into account different body mass index groups.

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Massimo Scacchi, Massimiliano Andrioli, Chiara Carzaniga, Giovanni Vitale, Mirella Moro, Luca Poggi, Francesca Pecori Giraldi, Letizia M Fatti, and Francesco Cavagnini

Objective

Ultrasound-elastography (US-E) appears to be a helpful tool for the diagnosis of thyroid cancer. In acromegaly, the prevalence of thyroid cancer is still debated. The aims of this study were to evaluate thyroid nodules in acromegaly and to establish the accuracy of US-E in providing information on their nature, using cytological analysis as a reference.

Subjects and methods

US-E was applied to 90 nodules detected in 25 acromegalic patients and to 94 nodules found in 31 non-acromegalic goitrous subjects. The lesions were classified according to the elasticity scores (ES) as soft (ES 1–2) or hard (ES 3–4). Fine needle aspiration cytology could be performed in 60.8% of hard nodules in acromegalics and in 86.7% of hard nodules in controls.

Results

The prevalence of hard nodules was significantly higher in the whole group of acromegalic patients than in controls (56.8 vs 16.0%, P<0.0001). The prevalence of hard nodules in patients with active acromegaly (68.9%) was greater, though not to a statistically significant extent, than that observed in cured (44.4%) and controlled (52.5%) patients. Cytology revealed malignancy or suspect malignancy in four of the nodules of non-acromegalic subjects and in none of the nodules of acromegalic patients.

Conclusions

This study has demonstrated a high prevalence of stiff thyroid nodules in acromegaly, greater than that found in non-acromegalic goitrous subjects. In acromegalics, hard nodules appeared not to be malignant on cytopathological examination and are probably of fibrous nature. Thus, US-E appears to be of limited value for the diagnosis of thyroid cancer in acromegaly.

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Massimo Scacchi, Leila Danesi, Agnese Cattaneo, Elena Valassi, Francesca Pecori Giraldi, Piero Radaelli, Alberto Ambrogio, Emanuela D'Angelo, Nadia Mirra, Laura Zanaboni, Maria D Cappellini, and Francesco Cavagnini

Objective

We previously described in young thalassaemic patients an altered cortisol and ACTH responsiveness suggesting an impaired adrenocortical reserve. Owing to iron overload, a worsening of adrenal function should be expected in adult patients.

Design

In 124 adults with β-thalassaemia, urinary free cortisol (UFC) and plasma ACTH levels were determined and compared with those measured in 150 controls. In 45 patients, cortisol was measured in response to: i) tetracosactide 1 μg as an i.v. bolus (low-dose test, LDT) and ii) tetracosactide 250 μg infused i.v. over 8 h (high-dose test, HDT).

Results

UFC and serum cortisol were within the reference range in all patients. Conversely, basal plasma ACTH values were above the upper limit of the normal range in 19 patients. There were no statistically significant differences in the mean values of UFC, basal serum cortisol and plasma ACTH between patients and controls. A subnormal cortisol response to the LDT was registered in 18 out of 56 patients. Three of these patients also displayed a subnormal response to the HDT, together with elevated baseline plasma ACTH levels. In the LDT, a positive correlation was found between basal and peak cortisol values (P<0.0001). The latter were negatively correlated with basal ACTH values in both LDT (P<0.0001) and HDT (P<0.0001).

Conclusions

Adult thalassaemic patients often present a subtle impairment of adrenocortical function. This may become clinically relevant in case of major stressful events. Thus, we recommend an assessment of adrenocortical function in all adult thalassaemic patients.

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Francesca Pecori Giraldi, Massimiliano Andrioli, Laura De Marinis, Antonio Bianchi, Antonella Giampietro, Martina De Martin, Eugenia Sacco, Massimo Scacchi, Alfredo Pontecorvi, and Francesco Cavagnini

Objective: Impaired GH secretion usually accompanies Cushing’s syndrome and a variable proportion of patients reportedly fail to recover normal GH secretion after successful treatment. This wide variability is most probably due to differences in the treatment (i.e. surgery and/or radiotherapy), timing of patient re-evaluation after surgery and dynamic tests employed to challenge GH secretion, and hinders a precise assessment of risk of GH deficiency after cure. The aim of the present study is to evaluate GH secretory status after long-term cure of Cushing’s disease achieved by surgery alone.

Design and methods: We studied 34 patients (27 females and 7 males, age range 21–68 years) formerly affected by Cushing’s disease. Patients were studied 2–20 years (median 3.3 years) following remission of hypercortisolism; all patients underwent transsphenoidal surgery with the removal of an ACTH-secreting adenoma; repeat pituitary surgery for relapse was performed in two patients while bilateral adrenalectomy was necessary in two patients. In all subjects, the GH response to GHRH+arginine stimulation was evaluated. At the time of testing, 13 patients were still on steroid replacement therapy.

Results: In long-term surgical remission, 22 patients (65.0%) presented subnormal GH secretion; partial GH deficiency (GH peak <16.5 μg/l) was found in 11 patients and severe GH deficiency (GH peak <9 μg/l) in another 11. Male gender and length of hypercortisolism were risk factors for postsurgical GH deficiency.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates the presence of GH deficiency in a high percentage of patients with Cushing’s disease after long-term remission of hypercortisolism obtained by surgery alone. Male gender and length of hypercortisolism are the most significant predictors of postsurgical GH deficiency. This finding is significant as it highlights that even the most favourable therapeutical course, i.e. remission achieved by surgery alone, is accompanied by impaired GH secretion. Assessment of GH secretion is therefore recommended for all patients cured from Cushing’s disease, even if not submitted to radiotherapy. Studies on the clinical impact of GH deficiency and the use of GH replacement therapy seem warranted in patients cured from Cushing’s disease.

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Francesca Pecori Giraldi, Andrea Saccani, Francesco Cavagnini, and The Study Group on the Hypothalamo-Pituitary–Adrenal Axis of the Italian Society of Endocrinology

Objective

Measurement of plasma ACTH plays a pivotal role in the diagnosis and treatment of several endocrine disorders. Little is known, however, on the variability of ACTH assay results and its impact on clinical practice. The aim of the present study was to assess the performance of routine plasma ACTH measurements.

Design

Twenty-five fresh-frozen plasma samples collected from patients with either high, low, or normal ACTH concentrations were measured using seven different assays by 35 different laboratories. Assay precision, method agreement, and result classification were estimated.

Results

Inter- and intra-assay coefficient of variation varied considerably with some assays achieving <10%, others consistently achieving >20%. Overall method agreement was good (mean ratio versus target value 1.02) but subject to exceedingly large excursion (lower and upper limits of agreement at 0.13 and 1.91 respectively). Both differences between assays and between laboratories contributed to variability of method agreement. Assays correctly classified most patients with normal and high ACTH concentrations (90% (95% CI 82–97%) and 95% (95% CI 86–100%) respectively), whereas only 60% (95% CI 52–67%) of measurements from patients with low ACTH values were assigned correctly.

Conclusions

Field ACTH assays have to be interpreted with caution as they are burdened by high variability and often fail to correctly identify patients with suppressed ACTH secretion. The endocrine community has to include ACTH assays among those requiring standardization.

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Maria Vittoria Davi’, Elisa Cosaro, Serena Piacentini, Giuseppe Reimondo, Nora Albiger, Giorgio Arnaldi, Antongiulio Faggiano, Giovanna Mantovani, Nicola Fazio, Alessandro Piovesan, Emanuela Arvat, Franco Grimaldi, Letizia Canu, Massimo Mannelli, Alberto Giacinto Ambrogio, Francesca Pecori Giraldi, Chiara Martini, Andrea Lania, Manuela Albertelli, Diego Ferone, Maria Chiara Zatelli, Davide Campana, Annamaria Colao, Carla Scaroni, Massimo Terzolo, Laura De Marinis, Sara Cingarlini, Rocco Micciolo, and Giuseppe Francia

Objective

Evidence is limited regarding outcome of patients with ectopic Cushing’s syndrome (ECS) due to neuroendocrine tumors (NETs).

Design

We assessed the prognostic factors affecting the survival of patients with NETs and ECS.

Methods

Retrospective analysis of clinicopathological features, severity of hormonal syndrome, treatments from a large cohort of patients with NETs and ECS collected from 17 Italian centers.

Results

Our series included 110 patients, 58.2% female, with mean (±s.d.) age at diagnosis of 49.5 ± 15.9 years. The main sources of ectopic ACTH were bronchial carcinoids (BC) (40.9%), occult tumors (22.7%) and pancreatic (p)NETs (15.5%). Curative surgery was performed in 56.7% (70.2% of BC, 11% of pNETs). Overall survival was significantly higher in BC compared with pNETs and occult tumors (P = 0.033) and in G1-NETs compared with G2 and G3 (P = 0.007). Negative predictive factors for survival were severity of hypercortisolism (P < 0.02), hypokalemia (P = 0.001), diabetes mellitus (P = 0.0146) and distant metastases (P < 0.001). Improved survival was observed in patients who underwent NET removal (P < 0.001). Adrenalectomy improved short-term survival.

Conclusions

Multiple factors affect prognosis of ECS patients: type of NET, grading, distant metastases, severity of hypercortisolism, hypokalemia and diabetes mellitus. BCs have the highest curative surgical rate and better survival compared with occult tumors and pNETs. Hypercortisolism plays a primary role in affecting outcome and quality of life; therefore, prompt and vigorous treatment of hormonal excess by NET surgery and medical therapy should be a key therapeutic goal. In refractory cases, adrenalectomy should be considered as it affects outcome positively at least in the first 2 years.

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Martin Reincke, Adriana Albani, Guillaume Assie, Irina Bancos, Thierry Brue, Michael Buchfelder, Olivier Chabre, Filippo Ceccato, Andrea Daniele, Mario Detomas, Guido Di Dalmazi, Atanaska Elenkova, James Findling, Ashley B. Grossman, Celso E Gomez-Sanchez, Anthony P Heaney, Juergen Honegger, Niki Karavitaki, Andre Lacroix, Edward R Laws, Marco Losa, Masanori Murakami, John Newell-Price, Francesca Pecori Giraldi, Luis G. Pérez‐Rivas, Rosario Pivonello, William E Rainey, Silviu Sbiera, Jochen Schopohl, Constantine A Stratakis, Marily Theodoropoulou, Elisabeth F.C. van Rossum, Elena Valassi, Sabina Zacharieva, German Rubinstein, and Katrin Ritzel

BACKGROUND: Corticotroph tumor progression (CTP) leading to Nelson’s syndrome (NS) is a severe and difficult-to-treat complication subsequent to bilateral adrenalectomy (BADX) for Cushing’s disease. Its characteristics are not well described, and consensus recommendations for diagnosis and treatment are missing.

METHODS: A systematic literature search was performed focusing on clinical studies and case series (≥5 patients). Definition, incidence, treatment and long-term outcomes of CTP/NS after BADX were analyzed using descriptive statistics. The results were presented and discussed at an interdisciplinary consensus workshop attended by international pituitary experts in Munich on October 28th, 2018.

RESULTS: Data covered definition and incidence (34 studies, 1275 patients), surgical outcome (12 studies, 187 patients), outcome of radiation therapy (21 studies, 273 patients), and medical therapy (15 studies, 72 patients).

CONCLUSIONS: We endorse the definition of CTP-BADX/NS as radiological progression or new detection of a pituitary tumor on thin-section MRI. We recommend surveillance by MRI after 3 months and every 12 months for the first 3 years after BADX. Subsequently, we suggest clinical evaluation every 12 months and MRI at increasing intervals every 2-4 years (depending on ACTH and clinical parameters). We recommend pituitary surgery as first-line therapy in patients with CTP-BADX/NS. Surgery should be performed before extrasellar expansion of the tumor to obtain complete and long-term remission. Conventional radiotherapy or stereotactic radiosurgery should be utilized as second-line treatment for remnant tumor tissue showing extrasellar extension.