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E Arvat, B Maccagno, J Ramunni, M Maccario, R Giordano, F Broglio, F Camanni and E Ghigo

OBJECTIVE: It is known that glucagon administration elicits ACTH and cortisol responses in humans, although this effect takes place after intramuscular or subcutaneous but not after the intravenous route of administration. The mechanisms underlying this stimulatory effect on corticotroph secretion are unknown but they are unrelated to glucose variations and stress-mediated actions. DESIGN AND METHODS: To throw further light on the stimulatory effect of i.m. glucagon on the pituitary-adrenal axis, using six normal young female volunteers (26-32 years, body mass index 19.7-22.5 kg/m(2)) we studied the interaction between glucagon (GLU; 0.017 mg/kg i.m.) and human corticotropin-releasing hormone (hCRH; 2.0 microg/kg i.v.) or vasopressin (AVP; 0.17 U/kg i.m.). The interactions between hCRH and AVP on the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the GH response to GLU alone or combined with hCRH or AVP were also studied. RESULTS: GLU i.m. administration elicited a clear increase in ACTH (peak vs baseline, means+/-s.e.m.: 11.6+/-3.3 vs 4.2+/-0.3 pmol/l, P<0.05), cortisol (613.5+/-65.6 vs 436.9+/-19.3 nmol/l, P<0.05) and GH levels (11.6+/-3.4 vs 3.3+/-0.7 microg/l, P<0.05). The ACTH response to GLU (area under the curve: 426.4+/-80.9 pmol/l per 120 min) was higher than that to AVP (206.3+/-38.8 pmol/l per 120 min, P<0.02) and that to hCRH (299.8+/-39.8 pmol/l per 120 min) although this latter difference did not attain statistical significance. The GLU-induced cortisol response (28336.9+/-2430.7 nmol/l per 120 min) was similar to those after hCRH (24099.2+/-2075.2 nmol/l per 120 min) and AVP (21808.7+/-1948.2 nmol/l per 120 min). GLU and hCRH had an additive effect on ACTH (964.9+/-106.6 pmol/l per 120 min, P<0.02) and a less than additive effect on cortisol levels (35542.5+/-2720. 2 nmol/l per 120 min). Similarly, GLU and AVP had an additive effect on ACTH (825.6+/-139.6 pmol/l per 120 min, P<0.02) and an effect less than additive on cortisol levels (33059.2+/-1965.3 nmol/l per 120 min). The effects of GLU co-administered with hCRH or AVP were similar to those of the combined administration of hCRH and AVP on ACTH (906. 0+/-152.7 pmol/l per 120 min) and cortisol (34383.5+/-1669.2 nmol/l per 120min) levels. The GH response to GLU was not modified by hCRH or AVP. CONCLUSIONS: These results show that i.m. glucagon administration is a provocative stimulus of ACTH and cortisol secretion, at least as potent as hCRH and AVP. The ACTH-releasing effect of i.m. glucagon is not mediated by selective CRH or AVP stimulation but the possibility that both neurohormones play a role could be hypothesized.

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R Giordano, E Marinazzo, R Berardelli, A Picu, M Maccario, E Ghigo and E Arvat


To evaluate long-term morphological, functional, and clinical outcome in adrenal incidentalomas.

Design and methods

A total of 118 patients (77 F and 47 M; age 62.3±1.0 years) with adrenal incidentalomas were evaluated at baseline and followed-up for median 3 years (range 1–10 years) by clinical, biochemical, hormonal, and morphological evaluation. Among them, six patients with diagnosis of subclinical Cushing's syndrome (SCS) underwent surgery.


At entry, 86% (n=102) of tumors were nonfunctioning (NF) and 14% (n=16) showed SCS. Comparing NF with SCS patients, a significantly higher percentage of dyslipidemia was found in the group of SCS patients (50 vs 23%, P=0.033). During follow-up, adrenal function remained normal in all NF patients, none of them developed subclinical or overt endocrine disease. The cumulative risk of mass enlargement was globally low (25%), but progressive up to 8 years. SCS was confirmed in all patients, and none of them shifted to overt Cushing's syndrome. The cumulative risk of developing metabolic–cardiovascular abnormalities was globally low (22%), but progressive up to 8 years and new diseases were recorded in the group of NF patients only (three patients with dyslipidemia, four with impaired fasting glucose/impaired glucose tolerance, and three with diabetes mellitus). SCS patients who underwent surgery did not show any significant clinical improvement.


The risk of mass enlargement, hormonal, and metabolic impairment over time is globally low. Conservative management seems to be appropriate, but further prospective studies are needed to establish the long-term outcome of such patients, especially for metabolic status, cardiovascular risk profile and their relationship with endocrine function.

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G Aimaretti, G Fanciulli, S Bellone, M Maccario, E Arvat, G Delitala, F Camanni and E Ghigo

OBJECTIVE: Adults with severe GH deficiency (GHD) need recombinant human growth hormone (rhGH) replacement to restore body composition, structure functions and metabolic abnormalities. The optimal rhGH dose for replacement has been progressively reduced to avoid side effects. The aim of the present study was to define the minimal rhGH dose able to increase both IGF-I and IGF binding protein (BP)-3 levels in GHD and to verify the possible change in GH sensitivity. DESIGN AND PATIENTS: To this goal, we studied the effect of 4-day treatment with 3 rhGH doses (1.25, 2.5 and 5.0 microg/kg/day) on IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels in 25 panhypopituitary adults with severe GHD (12 males and 13 females, age: 44.5+/-3.0 years, body mass index (BMI): 27.0+/-0.9 kg/m(2)) and 21 normal young adult volunteers (NV, 12 males and 9 females, age: 30.5+/-2.0 years, BMI: 20.8+/-0.5 kg/m(2)). RESULTS: Basal IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels in GHD were lower (P<0.001) than in NV. In NV the 1.25 microg/kg dose of rhGH did not modify IGF-I levels. The dose of 2.5 microg/kg rhGH significantly increased IGF-I levels in men (P<0.001) but not in women, while the 5.0 microg/kg dose increased IGF-I levels in both sexes (P<0.001). IGFBP-3 levels were not modified by any of the administered rhGH doses. In GHD patients, all rhGH doses increased IGF-I levels 12 h after both the first (P<0.01) and the fourth rhGH dose (P<0.001). At the end of treatment percentage increases in IGF-I were higher (P<0.001) in GHD patients than in NV. In contrast with NV, in GHD patients the IGF-I response to short-term stimulation with rhGH was independent of gender. Moreover, GHD patients showed increases in IGFBP-3 after the fourth administration of both 2.5 and 5.0 microg/kg rhGH. CONCLUSION: The results of the present study demonstrate that the minimal rhGH dose able to increase IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels in GHD patients is lower than in normal subjects, at least after a very short treatment. This evidence suggests an enhanced peripheral GH sensitivity in GH deprivation.

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M Maccario, JD Veldhuis, F Broglio, LD Vito, E Arvat, R Deghenghi and E Ghigo

OBJECTIVE: To extend the insights on the action of GH secretagogues (GHS) on pituitary function, we studied the impact of intermittent daily s.c. administration of a peptidyl GHS, hexarelin (HEX), on 24-h GH, PRL, ACTH and cortisol release in healthy volunteers. DESIGN: We investigated the impact of two or three times daily s.c. administration of a short-acting peptidyl GHS, the hexapeptide HEX (1.5 microg/kg) on 24-h GH, PRL, ACTH and cortisol secretion (sampling every 20 min) in six normal young men. To monitor possible down-regulation, the effect of 1 microg/kg i.v. HEX at the end of each 24-h sampling period was studied. METHODS: Multi-parameter deconvolution analysis was used to quantitate pulsatile GH, PRL, ACTH and cortisol secretion and estimate the corresponding hormone half-lives. Complementary to deconvolution analysis, approximate entropy was used as a scale- and model-independent statistic to quantify the serial orderliness or pattern regularity of hormone measurements. RESULTS: Mean and integrated (24-h) serum GH concentrations were increased from baseline values to the same extent by two and three HEX injections. Both HEX schedules equally increased GH secretory burst mass (but not burst frequency), mean daily GH production rate, GH half-life and irregularity of GH release patterns. No change occurred in the secretion of IGF-I, PRL, ACTH and cortisol. Intravenous HEX at the end of each spontaneous 24-h profile induced a significant rise in GH, PRL, ACTH and cortisol. Prior HEX administration blunted the GH response, abolished that of ACTH and cortisol and did not modify the PRL increase. CONCLUSIONS: The study showed that two or three daily s.c. injections of HEX augmented 24-h GH secretion equally, amplifying selectively GH secretory pulse mass without altering lactotroph and corticotroph secretion. IGF-I levels were not modified by these 1-day HEX treatment schedules.

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M Maccario, F Tassone, C Gauna, SE Oleandri, G Aimaretti, M Procopio, S Grottoli, CD Pflaum, CJ Strasburger and E Ghigo

OBJECTIVE: To verify the hypothesis of an increased sensitivity to GH in obesity (OB) and Cushing's syndrome (CS). DESIGN: We studied the effects of short-term administration of low-dose rhGH on circulating IGF-I levels in patients with simple OB or CS and in normal subjects (NS). METHODS: Nineteen women with abdominal OB aged (mean +/- s.e.m.) 38.2+/-3.1 years, body mass index 40.7+/-2.5 kg/m(2), waist to hip ratio 0.86+/-0.02, ten with CS (50.4+/-4.2 years, 29.7 +/- 3.3 kg/m(2)) and 11 NS (35.0+/-3.6 years, 20.5+/-0.5 kg/m(2)) underwent s.c. administration of 5 microg/kg per day rhGH at 2200 h for four days. Serum IGF-I, IGF-binding protein-3 (IGFBP-3), GH-binding protein (GHBP), insulin and glucose levels were determined at baseline and 12 h after the first and the last rhGH administration. RESULTS: Basal IGF-I levels in NS (239.3+/-22.9 microg/l) were similar to those in OB (181.5+/-13.7 microg/l) and CS (229.0+/-29.1 microg/l). Basal IGFBP-3, GHBP and glucose levels in NS, OB and CS were similar while insulin levels in NS were lower (P<0.01) than those in OB and CS. In NS, the low rhGH dose induced a sustained rise of IGF-I levels (279.0+/-19.5 microg/l, P<0.001), a non-significant IGFBP-3 increase and no change in GHBP, insulin and glucose levels. In OB and CS, the IGF-I response to rhGH showed progressive increase (246.2+/-17.2 and 311.0+/-30.4 microg/l respectively, P<0.01 vs baseline). Adjusting by ANCOVA for basal values, rhGH-induced IGF-I levels in CS (299.4 microg/l) were higher than in OB (279.1 microg/l, P<0.01), which, in turn, were higher (P<0.05) than in NS (257.7 microg/l). In OB, but not in CS, IGFBP-3 and insulin levels showed slight but significant (P<0.05) increases during rhGH treatment, which did not modify glucose levels in any group; thus, in the OB patient group a significant fall in glucose/insulin ratio was observed. CONCLUSIONS: Short-term treatment with low-dose rhGH has enhanced stimulatory effect on IGF-I levels in OB and, particularly, in hypercortisolemic patients. These findings support the hypothesis that hyperinsulinism and hypercortisolism enhance the sensitivity to GH in humans.

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E Arvat, B Maccagno, J Ramunni, R Giordano, F Broglio, L Gianotti, M Maccario, F Camanni and E Ghigo

OBJECTIVE: Glucagon administration stimulates both somatotroph and corticotroph secretion in humans, although this happens only if glucagon is administered by the intramuscular route and not by the intravenous route. On the other hand, GH secretagogues (GHS) strongly stimulate GH and also possess ACTH-releasing activity. DESIGN AND METHODS: To clarify the mechanisms underlying the stimulatory effects of both glucagon and GHS on somatotroph and corticotroph secretion, we studied the GH, ACTH and cortisol responses to glucagon (GLU, 0.017 mg/kg i.m.) and Hexarelin, a peptidyl GHS (HEX, 2.0 microg/kg i.v.) given alone or in combination in 6 normal young volunteers (females, aged 26-32 years, body mass index 19.7-22.5 kg/m). RESULTS: GLU administration elicited a clear increase in GH (peak vs baseline, mean+/-S.E.M.: 11.6+/-3.4 vs 3. 3+/-0.7 microg/l, P<0.02), ACTH (11.6+/-3.3 vs 4.1+/-0.3 pmol/l, P<0. 02) and cortisol (613.5+/-65.6 vs 436.9+/-19.3 nmol/l, P<0.05) levels. HEX induced a marked increase in GH levels (55.7+/-19.8 vs 3. 7+/-1.9 microg/l, P<0.005) and also significant ACTH (5.7+/-1.1 vs 3. 4+/-0.6 pmol/l, P<0.01) and cortisol (400.2+/-31.4 vs 363.4+/-32.2 nmol/l, P<0.05) responses. The GH area under the curve (AUC) after HEX was clearly higher than after GLU (1637.3+/-494.0 vs 479.1+/-115. 7 microg/l/120 min, P<0.04) while HEX and GLU coadministration had a true synergistic effect on GH release (3243.8+/-687.5 microg/l/120 min, P<0.02). The ACTH and cortisol AUCs after HEX were lower (P<0. 02) than those after GLU (208.3+/-41.3 vs 426.3+/-80.9 pmol/l/120 min and 18 874.5+/-1626.1 vs 28 338.5+/-2430.7 nmol/l/120 min respectively). The combined administration of HEX and GLU had an effect which was less than additive on both ACTH (564.02+/-76.5 pmol/l/120 min) and cortisol (35 424.6+/-5548.1 nmol/l/120 min) secretion. CONCLUSIONS: These results show that the intramuscular administration of glucagon releases less GH but more ACTH and cortisol than Hexarelin. The combined administration of glucagon and Hexarelin has a true synergistic effect on somatotroph secretion but a less than additive effect on corticotroph secretion; these findings suggest that these stimuli act via different mechanisms to stimulate somatotrophs while they could have a common action on the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis.

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G Aimaretti, C Baffoni, L DiVito, S Bellone, S Grottoli, M Maccario, E Arvat, F Camanni and E Ghigo

Classical provocative stimuli of GH secretion such as insulin-induced hypoglycaemia, arginine, clonidine, glucagon and levodopa have been widely used in clinical practice for approximately 30 years. On the other hand, in the last 10 years new potent stimuli of GH secretion have been proposed, but an extensive comparison with the classical ones has rarely been performed, at least in adults. In order to compare the GH-releasing activity of old and new provocative stimuli of GH secretion, and to define the normative values of the GH response, in 178 normal adults (95 males, 83 females; age range: 20-50 years, all within +/-15% of their ideal body weight), we studied the GH response to: insulin-induced hypoglycaemia (ITT, 0.1IU/kg i.v.), arginine (ARG, 0.5g/kg i.v.), clonidine (CLO, 300 microg/kg p.o.), glucagon (GLU, 1mg i.m.), pyridostigmine (PD, 120mg p.o.), galanin (GAL, 80pmol/kg per min), GH-releasing hormone (GHRH, 1 microg/kg i.v.), GHRH+ARG, GHRH+PD, hexarelin, a GH-releasing protein (HEX, 2 microg/kg i.v.) and GHRH+HEX (0.25 microg/kg i.v.). The mean (+/-s.e.m.) peak GH response to ITT (21.8+/-2.8, range: 3.0-84.0 microg/l) was similar to those to ARG (18.0+/-1.6, range: 2.9-39.5 microg/l) or GLU (20. 5+/-2.2, range: 10.6-36.9 microg/l) which, in turn, were higher (P<0. 001) than those to CLO (8.2+/-1.6, range: 0.3-21.5 microg/l), PD (9. 6+/-1.1, range: 2.2-33.0 microg/l) and GAL (9.3+/-1.1, range: 3.9-18. 3 microg/l). The GH response to GHRH (19.1+/-1.5, range: 2.7-55.0 microg/l) was similar to those after ITT, ARG or GLU but clearly lower than those after GHRH+ARG (65.9+/-5.5, range: 13.8-171.0 microg/l) and GHRH+PD (50.2+/-4.6, range: 17.7-134.5 microg/l) which, in turn, were similar. The GH response to HEX (55.3+/-5.5, range: 13.9-163.5 microg/l) was similar to those after GHRH+ARG and GHRH+PD but lower (P<0.001) than that after GHRH+HEX (86.0+/-4.3, range: 49. 0-125.0 microg/l) which was the most potent stimulus of GH secretion. In this adult population the third centile limits of peak GH response to various stimuli were the following: ITT: 5.3; ARG: 2.9; CLO: 1.5; GLU: 7.6; PD: 2.2; GAL: 4.0; GHRH: 5.0; GHRH+ARG: 17.8; GHRH+PD: 17.9; HEX: 21.6; GHRH+HEX: 57.1. These results confirm that, among classical provocative tests of GH secretion, ITT followed by ARG and GLU are the most potent ones and possess clear limits of normality. GHRH+ARG or PD and HEX are strong stimuli of GH secretion which, however, is maximally stimulated by a combination of GHRH and a low dose of HEX. It is recommended that each test is used with appropriate cut-off limits.