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Anjana Radhakutty and Morton G Burt

Glucocorticoids are frequently prescribed to patients with a wide range of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The semi-synthetic glucocorticoid prednisolone is most commonly prescribed and in two main patterns. Prednisolone is prescribed short term at medium-high doses to treat an acute inflammatory illness or long term at lower doses to attenuate chronic inflammatory disease progression. In hospitalized patients with acute prednisolone-induced hyperglycaemia, there is a distinct circadian pattern of glucose elevation, which occurs predominantly in the afternoon and evening. As a morning dose of isophane insulin has a pharmacokinetic pattern that matches this pattern of glucose elevation, treatment comprising a basal dose of morning isophane insulin in combination with short-acting insulin boluses is generally recommended. However, evidence is lacking that isophane-based basal bolus insulin is more efficacious than other insulin regimens. In outpatients, low-dose prednisolone causes a small increase in post glucose-load glucose concentration but no change in overall glycaemic control as measured by glycosylated haemoglobin. If treatment is indicated, metformin has been shown to be effective and may attenuate other adverse effects of long-term prednisolone therapy. Further studies are necessary in order to identify factors underlying the variability in response to insulin therapy and clinical benefits of treatment in hospitalized patients with prednisolone-induced hyperglycaemia. In outpatients prescribed low-dose prednisolone, the cardiovascular risk associated with postprandial hyperglycaemia and efficacy of hypoglycaemic therapies should be evaluated in future randomized clinical trials.

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Oskar Ragnarsson, Morton G Burt, Ken K Y Ho and Gudmundur Johannsson

Objective

Long-term pharmacological glucocorticoid (GC) therapy leads to skeletal muscle atrophy and weakness. The objective of this study was to investigate whether short-term treatment with GH and testosterone (T) can increase lean mass without major impairment of glucose homoeostasis in patients on GC therapy.

Design, materials and methods

This was a prospective, open-label, randomised, crossover study. Twelve men (age 74±6 years) on chronic GC treatment participated. The effects of 2 weeks' treatment with GH, testosterone and the combination of both on lean body mass (LBM), appendicular skeletal muscle mass (ASMM), extracellular water (ECW), body cell mass (BCM) and plasma glucose concentrations were investigated.

Results

LBM increased significantly after GH (Δ1.7±1.4 kg; P=0.007) and GH+testosterone (Δ2.4±1.1 kg; P=0.003), but not testosterone alone. ASMM increased after all three treatment periods; by 1.0±0.8 kg after GH (P=0.005), 1.7±0.4 kg after GH+testosterone (P=0.002) and 0.8±1.0 kg after testosterone (P=0.018). The increase in ASMM was larger with combined treatment than either GH or testosterone alone (P<0.05). ECW increased significantly after GH+testosterone by 1.5±2.6 l (P=0.038) but not after GH or testosterone alone. BCM increased slightly after single and combined treatments, but the changes were not significant. Fasting glucose increased significantly after GH (Δ0.4±0.4 mmol/l, P=0.006) while both fasting (Δ0.2±0.3 mmol/l, P=0.045) and post glucose-load (Δ1.8±2.3 mmol/l, P=0.023) plasma glucose concentrations increased after GH+testosterone.

Conclusions

GH and testosterone induce favourable and additive body compositional changes in men on chronic, low-dose GC treatment. In the doses used, combination therapy increases fasting and postprandial glucose concentration.

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Johanna L Barclay, Carolyn J Petersons, Sahar Keshvari, Jane Sorbello, Brenda L Mangelsdorf, Campbell H Thompson, Johannes B Prins, Morton G Burt, Jonathan P Whitehead and Warrick J Inder

Objective

Thrombospondin-1 (TSP1) is a matricellular protein whose gene expression has previously been shown to increase acutely after exposure to dexamethasone in vitro. The aim of this study was to determine if TSP1 is altered by acute and chronic states of glucocorticoid excess in human subjects.

Design and methods

Three studies have been undertaken to assess the difference or change in TSP1 in response to altered glucocorticoid activity: i) an acute interventional study assessed the effects of a single 4 mg dose of dexamethasone in 20 healthy volunteers; ii) a cross-sectional study compared plasma TSP1 in 20 healthy volunteers and eight patients with Cushing's syndrome; iii) an interventional study assessed the effect on plasma TSP1 of an increase in hydrocortisone dose from ≤20 mg/day to 30 mg/day for 7 days in 16 patients with secondary adrenal insufficiency.

Results

In healthy volunteers, 4 mg dexamethasone significantly increased peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) TSP1 mRNA levels (P<0.0001) and plasma TSP1 concentrations (P<0.0001), peaking at 12 h. Median (interquartile range) plasma TSP1 was higher in Cushing's, 638 (535–756) ng/ml, than in healthy volunteers, 272 (237–336) ng/ml (P<0.0001). Plasma TSP1 >400 ng/ml diagnosed Cushing's syndrome with sensitivity of 100% and specificity of 85%. The higher hydrocortisone dose increased plasma TSP1 from 139 (86–199) to 256 (133–516) ng/ml, (P<0.01) in patients with secondary adrenal insufficiency.

Conclusions

TSP1 is a glucocorticoid responsive protein in humans. Further research is required to determine if plasma TSP1 has a role as a glucocorticoid biomarker.