Objective: Non-functioning pituitary adenomas (NFPAs) are characterised by the lack of symptoms of hormone hypersecretory syndromes but in vitro studies have demonstrated that tumour cells may stain for gonadotrophins and/or their α- or β-subunits. In this study, we aimed to examine the pattern of secretion of LH and FSH from a series of pituitary adenomas cultured in vitro and where data were available to relate the results to pre-operative serum gonadotrophin levels.
Methods: The in vitro secretion of LH and FSH was measured from 46 cultured NFPAs and compared with pre-operative serum gonadotrophin levels in 38 patients. Peritumorous ‘normal’ pituitary cell cultures from 20 additional pituitary tumour patients were used for comparison with the NFPA group.
Results: A median pre-operative LH:FSH ratio of 0.33:1 was found in 38 patients with NFPAs. Preferential secretion of FSH was also documented from media of 46 NFPAs cultured in vitro with a median LH:FSH ratio of 0.32:1. A significant correlation (r = 0.43, P < 0.01) was observed between serum and media levels of FSH but not LH. Peritumorous ‘normal’ pituitary cells released LH and FSH in a reversed ratio (median LH:FSH ratio = 3.6:1, P < 0.01 compared with NFPAs).
Conclusions: This study has evaluated pre-operative serum gonadotrophin levels and in vitro release of hormones in cultures of surgically removed tissue from patients with NFPAs. The data suggest preferential secretion of FSH occurs both in vitro and in vivo. By demonstrating that NFPAs cultured in vitro reflect the in vivo situation of preferential secretion of FSH, it may be possible in future to perform functional studies using this system to elucidate the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the development of an imbalance in gonadotroph cells preferentially overproducing FSH in NFPAs.