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  • Author: M O Savage x
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A growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) has recently been extracted and synthesised, and appears to be identical to human hypothalamic GHRH.

Immunoreactive GHRH is found in the venous blood of normal subjects and GH-deficient children, but is probably not hypothalamic in origin and therefore not important in GH regulation. GHRH is a potent specific stimulator of GH secretion in man, and provides a valuable diagnostic test in differentiating hypothalamic from pituitary causes of GH deficiency.

Preliminary data suggests that GHRH may promote linear growth in some GH deficient children. GHRH may well prove an important alternative therapy for GH deficient children especially if depot preparations or intranasal administration prove effective.

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C J Peters, H L Storr, A B Grossman and M O Savage

Background: Corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) was identified by Vale and co-workers in 1981 and has since been used extensively in the diagnosis of ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome (CS). It was hoped that the CRH test would discriminate between pituitary and ectopic ACTH secretion. In adults, a rise from basal to peak plasma cortisol of ≥20% and ACTH of ≥50% is consistent with Cushing’s disease (CD).

Methods: Twenty-seven paediatric patients, with CD (mean age ± s.d. 13.1 ± 3.2; range 6.4–17.8 years) were investigated in our centre between 1982 and 2005.

Results: During the CRH test, all patients showed an increase in cortisol of >20% (range 106–554%). In one patient with ectopic ACTH syndrome, there was no increase in cortisol after CRH. In six paediatric patients with CS due to primary adrenal hyperplasia, no patient showed an increase in cortisol after CRH of >1%.

Conclusions: A further suggested use of CRH is to increase the sensitivity of the central to peripheral and interpetrosal ratios of ACTH during inferior petrosal sinus catheterisation (IPSS). Bilateral IPSS with human CRH (hCRH) has been performed in our unit in 21 children with CD, as part of the preoperative preparation prior to transsphenoidal surgery (TSS). Its principal role was to identify the site of the microadenoma. Sixteen of 21 patients (76%) who underwent IPSS with hCRH were cured following TSS. In our view, the CRH test is of value during IPSS by clarifying the position of the microadenoma and in this way contributed to the overall outcome of TSS in paediatric patients with CD.

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Lucy Shapiro, Sumana Chatterjee, Dina G Ramadan, Kate M Davies, Martin O Savage, Louise A Metherell and Helen L Storr


GH insensitivity (GHI) is characterised by short stature, IGF-1 deficiency and normal/elevated serum GH. IGF-1 insensitivity results in pre- and post-natal growth failure with normal/high IGF-1 levels. The prevalence of genetic defects is unknown.


To identify the underlying genetic diagnoses in a paediatric cohort with GH or IGF-1 insensitivity using candidate gene (CGS) and whole-exome sequencing (WES) and assess factors associated with the discovery of a genetic defect.


We undertook a prospective study of 132 patients with short stature and suspected GH or IGF-1 insensitivity referred to our centre for genetic analysis. 107 (96 GHI, 88 probands; 11 IGF-1 insensitivity, 9 probands) underwent CGS. WES was performed in those with no defined genetic aetiology following CGS.


A genetic diagnosis was discovered 38/107 (36%) patients (32% probands) by CGS. WES revealed 11 patients with genetic variants in genes known to cause short stature. A further 2 patients had hypomethylation in the H19/IGF2 region or mUPD7 consistent with Silver–Russell Syndrome (total with genetic diagnosis 51/107, 48% or 41/97, 42% probands). WES also identified homozygous putative variants in FANCA and PHKB in 2 patients. Low height SDS and consanguinity were highly predictive for identifying a genetic defect.


Comprehensive genetic testing confirms the genetic heterogeneity of GH/IGF-1 insensitivity and successfully identified the genetic aetiology in a significant proportion of cases. WES is rapid and may isolate genetic variants that have been missed by traditional clinically driven genetic testing. This emphasises the benefits of specialist diagnostic centres.

Open access

A David, F Miraki-Moud, N J Shaw, M O Savage, A J L Clark and L A Metherell


GH insensitivity (GHI) is caused in the majority of cases by impaired function of the GH receptor (GHR). All but one known GHR mutation are in the coding sequence or the exon/intron boundaries. We identified and characterised the first intronic defect occurring in the polypyrimidine tract of the GHR in a patient with severe GHI.


We investigated the effect of the novel defect on mRNA splicing using an in vitro splicing assay and a cell transfection system.


GHR was analysed by direct sequencing. To assess the effect of the novel defect, two heterologous minigenes (wild-type and mutant L1-GHR8-L2) were generated by inserting GHR exon 8 and its flanking wild-type or mutant intronic sequences into a well-characterised splicing reporter (Adml-par L1–L2). 32P-labelled pre-mRNA was generated from the two constructs and incubated in HeLa nuclear extracts or HEK293 cells.


Sequencing of the GHR revealed a novel homozygous defect in the polypyrimidine tract of intron 7 (IVS7-6T>A). This base change does not involve the highly conserved splice site sequences, and is not predicted in silico to affect GHR mRNA splicing. Nevertheless, skipping of exon 8 from the mutant L1-GHR8-L2 mRNA was clearly demonstrated in the in vitro splicing assay and in transfected HEK293 cells.


Disruption of the GHR polypyrimidine tract causes aberrant mRNA splicing leading to a mutant GHR protein. This is predicted to lack its transmembrane and intracellular domains and, thus, be incapable of transducing a GH signal.

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L F Chan, H L Storr, P N Plowman, L A Perry, G M Besser, A B Grossman and M O Savage

Background/objective: Pituitary radiotherapy (RT) is an effective second-line treatment for paediatric Cushing’s disease (CD). Although the short-term effects of pituitary RT are well documented, there are less data on possible long-term sequelae. We report the long-term anterior pituitary function in a cohort of paediatric CD patients treated with pituitary RT.

Patients and methods: Between 1983 and 2006, 12 paediatric CD patients (10 males and 2 females) of mean age 11.4 years at diagnosis (range 6.4–17.4) underwent second-line pituitary RT (45 Gy in 25 fractions), following unsuccessful transsphenoidal surgery. Out of 12, 11 patients were cured by RT (cure interval 0.13–2.86 years) defined by mean serum cortisol of <150 nmol/l on 5-point day curve and midnight sleeping cortisol of <50 nmol/l. Long-term data are available for six male patients, who received RT at the age of 7.0–17.6 years. The mean follow-up from the completion of RT was 10.5 years (6.6–16.5).

Results: At a mean of 1.0 year (0.11–2.54) following RT, GH deficiency (peak GH <1–17.9 mU/l) was present in five out of six patients. On retesting at a mean of 9.3 years (7.6–11.3) after RT, three out of four patients were GH sufficient (peak GH 19.2–50.4 mU/l). Other anterior pituitary functions including serum prolactin in five out of six patients were normal on follow-up. All the six patients had testicular volumes of 20–25 ml at the age of 14.5–28.5 years.

Conclusion: This series of patients illustrates the absence of serious long-term pituitary deficiency after RT and emphasises the importance of continued surveillance.

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H L Storr, K I Alexandraki, L Martin, A M Isidori, G A Kaltsas, J P Monson, G M Besser, M Matson, J Evanson, F Afshar, I Sabin, M O Savage and A B Grossman


There are few published comparisons between paediatric and adult-onset Cushing's disease (CD). We compare the epidemiology, diagnostic features and cure rate by transsphenoidal surgery (TSS) in these groups.


Retrospective review of patient databases in a single university hospital centre.


Totally, 41 paediatric (mean age 12.3±3.5 years; range 5.7–17.8) and 183 adult (mean age 40±13 years; range 18.0–95.0) patients with CD were investigated.


Paediatric CD was characterised by male (63%) and adult CD by a female predominance (79%, P<0.0001). There were small but significant differences in clinical presentation. Biochemical features of CD were comparable except the serum cortisol increase during a CRH test: mean change (105%, n=39) in paediatric and (54%, n=123) in adult subjects (P<0.0001). Macroadenomas were more common in adult (15%, 28/183) than in paediatric (2%, 1/41, P=0.04) CD. Corticotroph microadenomas were more easily visualised by pituitary magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in adult (76%, 50/66) compared with paediatric (55%, 21/38, P=0.045) CD with poorer concordance of imaging with surgical findings in children (P=0.058). The incidence of ACTH lateralisation by bilateral simultaneous inferior petrosal sinus sampling was comparable in paediatric (76%, 25/33) and adult (79%, 46/58; P=0.95) patients with good surgical concordance in both (82% paediatric and 79% adult). Cure rates by TSS were comparable, with a paediatric cure rate of 69%.


Several features of paediatric CD are distinct: increased frequency of prepubertal CD in males, the different clinical presentation, the decreased presence of macroadenomas and the frequent absence of radiological evidence of an adenoma on MRI.

Free access

R P Dias, A Kumaran, L F Chan, L Martin, F Afshar, M Matson, P N Plowman, J P Monson, G M Besser, A B Grossman, M O Savage and H L Storr


Cushing's disease (CD) in prepubertal children is very rare and presents important diagnostic and therapeutic challenges. We report experience of the management of this subpopulation of CD patients.

Study design/methods

Retrospective patient case note review.


Between 1985 and 2008, 17 prepubertal children (13M, 4F), aged 5.7–14.1 years presented to our centre for diagnosis and management of CD. All children had subnormal linear growth and excessive weight gain at presentation. A high proportion (85% of males, 75% of females) had evidence of excessive virilisation. Striae and hypertension were seen in 41% of patients. The investigation with highest sensitivity (100%) for CD was excessive increase of serum cortisol to i.v. CRH (mean increase 113%). Pituitary imaging performed in all the patients showed poor concordance with findings at surgery (31%). In contrast bilateral simultaneous inferior petrosal sinus sampling (BSIPSS), performed in 11/16 subjects showed a high correlation with surgical findings (91%). In 16 patients, transsphenoidal selective adenomectomy (TSS) achieved a cure rate of 44%. However, in the 11 patients who had pre-operative BSIPSS, the cure rate was 64%. Of the 16 patients, 9 patients who were not cured by TSS received external pituitary radiotherapy.


Prepubertal CD had distinctive features with increased frequency in males, abnormal auxology and excessive virilisation. The cortisol response to i.v. CRH administration was particularly exuberant and contributed to diagnosis. BSIPSS was much more helpful than pituitary imaging in localisation of the microadenoma and was associated with improved cure rate by TSS.

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Helen L Storr, Farhad Afshar, Matthew Matson, Ian Sabin, Kate M Davies, Jane Evanson, P Nicholas Plowman, G Michael Besser, John P Monson, Ashley B Grossman and Martin O Savage

Objective: Early diagnosis and effective treatment of paediatric Cushing’s disease (CD) is necessary to minimise associated morbidity. Accepted first-line treatment is selective transsphenoidal microadenomectomy (TSS), which can be technically difficult, and cure rates vary considerably between centres. In our paediatric CD patient group we have assessed the possible factors which may influence cure by TSS.

Subjects and methods: From 1983–2004, 27 paediatric patients (16 males, 11 females; mean age±s.d., 13.1±3.2 yr; range, 6.4–17.8 yr) with CD were managed in our centre and underwent TSS. Sixteen patients (59%), seven males and nine females (mean age±s.d., 14.2±2.5 yr; range, 8.2–17.8 yr), were cured (post-operative serum cortisol < 50 nM). Eleven patients, nine males and two females (mean age±s.d., 11.5±3.6 yr; range, 6.4–17.8 yr) had post-operative cortisol levels above 50 nM (2–20 days), with mean serum cortisol levels at 09:00 h of 537 nM (range 269–900 nM) indicating a lack of cure. These 11 patients received external beam pituitary radiotherapy (RT). One patient with a pituitary macroadenoma had a post-operative cortisol level of < 50 nM but 0.8 yr later showed an elevated cortisol and residual disease.

Results: The patients cured by TSS alone were significantly older than those not cured (P = 0.038; Student’s t test). All patients had CT/MRI pituitary imaging: 14 were reported to have microadenomas and one macroadenoma, while 12 were reported as normal. Bilateral simultaneous inferior petrosal sinus sampling (BSIPSS) with i.v. corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) administration was introduced as a pre-operative investigation in 1986 and was performed in 21 patients (78%), on BSIPSS, 16 (76%) had evidence suggesting pituitary adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) secretion (central to peripheral (IPS:P) ACTH ratio after CRH of ≥ 3.0) and 16 (76%) showed lateralisation of ACTH secretion (IPSG of ≥ 1.4). There was concordance between the BSIPSS finding and the position of the microadenoma at surgery in 17/21 (81%) patients. Of the 16 patients showing lateralisation of ACTH secretion, 12 (75%) were cured by TSS. Of the four without lateralisation of ACTH, suggesting a midline lesion, 3 (75%) were cured by TSS. Post-operative pituitary hormone deficiencies in the patients cured by TSS were: pan-hypopituitarism 1/16, isolated growth hormone deficiency (GHD) (peak GH on glucagon/ITT < 1–17.9 mU/l) 9/16 and diabetes insipidus 3/16.

Conclusion: Over a 21-year period selective adenomectomy by TSS cured 59% of all paediatric CD patients, with higher age favouring cure. Introduction of BSIPSS resulted in the demonstration of a high rate of lateralisation of ACTH secretion consistent with the surgical identification of the adenoma, and therefore appears likely to have contributed to the higher surgical cure rate.