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Veronica A Preda, Jonathan Sen, Niki Karavitaki and Ashley B Grossman

This review addresses the practical usage of intravenous etomidate as a medical therapy in Cushing's syndrome. We reviewed the relevant literature, using search terms ‘etomidate’, ‘Cushing's syndrome’, ‘adrenocortical hyperfunction’, ‘drug therapy’ and ‘hypercortisolaemia’ in a series of public databases. There is a paucity of large randomised controlled trials, and data on its use rely only on small series, case study reports and international consensus guideline recommendations. Based on these, etomidate is an effective parenteral medication for the management of endogenous hypercortisolaemia, particularly in cases with significant biochemical disturbance, sepsis and other serious complications such as severe psychosis, as well as in preoperative instability. We suggest treatment protocols for the safe and effective use of etomidate in Cushing's syndrome.

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Alper Gürlek, Niki Karavitaki, Olaf Ansorge and John A H Wass

Prolactinoma is the most common pituitary tumour in adults. Macroprolactinomas, particularly in men, may occasionally exhibit a very aggressive clinical course as evidenced by progressive growth, invasion through bone into the sphenoid sinus, cavernous sinus, suprasellar region or the nasopharynx. Some may even progress to pituitary carcinoma with craniospinal or systemic metastases. Aggressive tumours have low cure rates despite appropriate medical and surgical treatment. The mechanisms underlying this aggressive biological behaviour have not yet been fully clarified. Recent immunohistochemical, molecular and genetic studies have provided some insight in this respect. Invasive prolactinomas may be associated with a high Ki-67/MIB-1 labelling index indicating increased cell proliferation, although this is not a universal finding. The AA polymorphism in the cyclin adenine (A)/guanine (G) gene is more frequently detected in invasive prolactinomas. Increased expression of the polysialylated neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) and reduced expression of the E-cadherin/catenin complex implies a contribution of altered cell-to-cell adhesion and cellular migration. Extracellular matrix components (ECM), matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and their inhibitors play important roles in the context of angiogenesis and invasion. The induction of fibroblast growth factor and vascular endothelial growth factor via oestrogen-induced overexpression of novel genes (PTTG, hst and Edpm5) enhance cell growth, proliferation and angiogenesis contributing to invasiveness in prolactinomas. Although mutations in proto-oncogenes like Ras are uncommon, loss of tumour suppressor genes at loci 11q13, 13q12–14, 10q and 1p seem to be associated with invasiveness. Of the described mechanisms, only reduced E-cadherin/catenin expression and overexpression of hst gene seem to be relatively specific markers for prolactinoma invasiveness compared with other pituitary adenomas. Further research is needed to clarify the molecular mechanisms behind the aggressive course of some prolactinomas to predict those with a potentially poor clinical outcome, and to devise treatments that will eventually enable the cure of these challenging tumours.

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Cristina Capatina, Warrick Inder, Niki Karavitaki and John A H Wass

Pituitary tumour apoplexy (PA) is a rare clinical syndrome that occurs as a result of acute haemorrhage and/or infarction within a frequently undiagnosed pituitary tumour. The sudden enlargement of the pituitary mass undergoing PA is responsible for a wide range of acute symptoms/signs (severe headache, visual loss, diplopia, hypopituitarism, impaired consciousness) which, together with the radiological evidence of a pituitary lesion, establish the diagnosis. The optimal care of PA requires involvement of a multidisciplinary team including endocrinologist, neurosurgeon, neuroophthalmologist and the management strategy that depends on the clinical manifestations, as well as the presence of co-morbidities. Prompt surgical decompression is initially indicated in cases with severe or progressive impairment of the visual acuity or the visual fields or with altered mental state and leads to visual and neurological recovery in most of the patients. The patients with mild, stable clinical picture (including those with isolated ocular palsies) can be managed conservatively (support of fluid and electrolyte balance and stress doses of steroids in most cases) with favourable visual and neurological outcome. Frequent reassessment is mandatory because the clinical course can be unpredictable; if progression of symptoms occurs, later elective surgery is indicated and is beneficial, especially in terms of visual outcome. The endocrinological outcome is less favourable, irrespective of the treatment option, with many patients remaining on long-term replacement therapy. Despite the above guidelines, clear proof of optimal outcomes in the form of randomised controlled trials is lacking. Regrowth of the pituitary tumour years after a PA episode is possible and patients require long-term surveillance.

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Athanasios Fountas, Shu Teng Chai, Chrysoula Kourkouti and Niki Karavitaki

The use of opioids has grown substantially over the past two decades reaching the dimensions of a global epidemic. These drugs have effects on multiple levels of the endocrine system through mechanisms which are still not fully elucidated, and awareness of their endocrine sequelae is vital for all specialists prescribing or managing patients on them. Hypogonadism is the most well-recognised consequence of opioid use (prevalence 21–86%) which, however, may remain undiagnosed with potential adverse outcomes for the patients. Although less frequent, cortisol deficiency can also be found. Furthermore, there is a negative impact on bone health (with reduced bone mineral density and increased fracture risk) and occasionally hyperprolactinaemia, whereas the clinical significance of alterations in other hormones remains to be clarified. Discontinuation or reduction of the opioid and, in cases of chronic pain, consideration of alternative therapies for pain relief are potential management options. Hormonal replacement, especially when the above measures are not practically feasible, needs to be considered. Further studies are needed to clearly establish the prevalence of hormonal abnormalities with various regimes, doses and routes of opioids and to address reliably the long-term benefits and risks of hormonal treatment in patients on opioids. Until evidence-based, safe and cost-effective clinical guidelines become available, periodical assessment of the gonadal and adrenal function (particularly when relevant clinical manifestations are present) and evaluation of the bone health status are advised.

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Veronica A Preda, Jonathan Sen, Niki Karavitaki and Ashley B Grossman

The authors apologise for the publication of an error in Table 2 of this article published in the European Journal of Endocrinology 167 137–143. They wish to make clear in Table 2 that they are stipulating the dose of etomidate and that the corresponding dose of hydrocortisone for complete blockade should be 0.5–1.0 mg/h. The correct table is published in full below.

Table 2

Treatment of hypercorticolism with etomidate: Recommendations.

Infusion rate optionsBlockadeCortisol levelBiochemical monitoringOther
Etomidate (IV) 0.04–0.05 m/kg per h=2.5–3.0 mg/hPartial to complete depending on clinical circumstance of the patientTitrate to serum cortisol 500–800 nmol/l in physiologically stressed patient, 150–300 nmol/l in non-physiologically stressed patientPotassium level Cortisol levelSedation scoring initially every two hours then every 12 hours after first 24 hours
Hydrocortisone IV 0.5–1.0 mg/hComplete (will need steroid replacement)<150 nmol/lPotassium level Cortisol level

This table could now be used as a practical guide for clinicians commencing infusions on the ward of etomidate and required hydrocortisone replacement.

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Raghava Reddy, Simon Cudlip, James V Byrne, Niki Karavitaki and John A H Wass

Background

Non-functioning pituitary adenomas (NFAs) are slow-growing tumours with reported re-growth rates following surgical resection alone of up to 50% at 10 years. Currently, the desired length of follow-up surveillance imaging in un-irradiated patients is unclear.

Aim

To clarify the timing of re-growth in patients with NFAs, treated solely by surgery without post-operative pituitary radiotherapy, and also to clarify whether continued imaging is necessary in these patients.

Methods

A case note analysis of all patients who underwent surgery alone for NFA between January 1984 and December 2007 was undertaken. Patients were followed for a minimum of 1 year. Re-growth was diagnosed on the basis of radiological appearances with or without associated manifestations.

Results

One hundred and fifty-five patients (94 males, mean age at diagnosis 57.9 (range 18.3–88) years) were included. Twenty-nine were followed up for more than 10 years. The mean follow-up following surgery was 6.1 years (median 4.3 (range 1–25.8)). Re-growth was documented in 54 (34.8%) cases and 20.4% of these cases showed relapse/re-growth 10 or more years after the initial surgery. Kaplan–Meier analysis showed relapse rates of 23.1, 46.7 and 67.9% at 5, 10 and 15 years respectively. There was a significant increase in the re-growth rates if there was either pituitary tumour remnant observed on the first post-operative scan (P≤0.001) or a younger age at initial surgery (P=0.034).

Conclusion

These results suggest that patients with NFAs need to be closely monitored following surgery, particularly those with post-operative tumour remnants. With 20% of relapse occurring after 10 years, follow-up surveillance needs to be continued beyond this time.

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Sarah Larkin, Raghava Reddy, Niki Karavitaki, Simon Cudlip, John Wass and Olaf Ansorge

Objective

Somatotroph adenomas causing acromegaly are histologically classified into densely granulated (DG) and sparsely granulated (SG) subtypes with different morphology, clinical characteristics and treatment outcomes. Granulation pattern has been reported to co-segregate with a recurrent mutation at codon 49 in growth hormone receptor (GHR) and GSP oncogene. This study examines response to the octreotide suppression test (OST) in relation to granulation pattern and mutation in GHR and GSP.

Design

This is a retrospective, single-centre study of 52 patients with pathologically confirmed somatotroph adenoma who were naïve to medical therapy presenting between January 2001 and October 2010.

Methods

Clinical, radiological and hormonal data at diagnosis were recorded. GHR and GSP were genotyped, granulation pattern determined and response to the OST measured.

Results

SG adenomas were larger (P=0.038), occurred in younger patients (P=0.029), were more common in females (P=0.026) and were more invasive (P<0.0001 and P=0.001), with diminished responses to the OST (P=0.007) compared with DG adenomas. GSP mutation was unrelated to granulation pattern but associated with smaller tumours (P=0.027), producing more GH (P=0.048) that responded better to the OST (P=0.022). Codon 49 of GHR was not mutated.

Conclusions

Adenoma histological phenotype, not genotype, corresponds to clinical and biochemical characteristics and response to the OST. SG adenomas constitute a clinically more unfavourable subtype but are not associated with GHR mutations in our series. Ascertainment of the adenoma subtype may become an important consideration in the management of acromegaly.

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Metaxia Tampourlou, Raluca Trifanescu, Alessandro Paluzzi, Shahzada K Ahmed and Niki Karavitaki

Microprolactinomas are the most common pituitary adenomas. In symptomatic patients, dopamine agonists are the first-line treatment of choice; when cabergoline is used, biochemical control rates between 85 and 93% have been reported. Long-term treatment is needed in most of the cases with compliance, patient convenience, and potential adverse effects representing areas requiring attention. Based on the literature published in the past 15 years, transsphenoidal surgery can lead to normal prolactin in the postoperative period in usually 71–100% of the cases with very low postoperative complication rates. Surgical expertise is the major determinant of the outcomes, and it may be a cost-effective option in young patients with life expectancy greater than 10 years (provided it is performed by experienced surgeons at high volume centers with confirmed optimal outcomes). Larger series of patients with adequate follow-up could further validate the place of transsphenoidal surgery (particularly through the endoscopic approach for which long-term results are currently limited) in the management algorithm of patients with microprolactinoma.

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Irene Zervolea, Harris Pratsinis, Stylianos Tsagarakis, Niki Karavitaki, Dimitri Stathakos, Nikos Thalassinos and Dimitris Kletsas

Objective: Chronic exposure to elevated glucocorticoid (GC) concentrations induces detrimental effects in several tissues. In the skin, GCs provoke intense alterations on various parameters of the physiology of fibroblasts, cumulatively leading to skin atrophy and impaired wound healing. As there are concerns that GCs may generate permanent adverse functional changes, we have investigated whether chronic in vivo exposure to GC excess results in persisting defects in skin fibroblasts.

Design and methods: We have studied in vitro primary skin fibroblast cultures obtained from patients suffering from endogenous Cushing’s syndrome (CF), as well as from sex- and age-matched normal donors (NF). The following functional parameters were investigated: cell proliferation, secretion of collagen, matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and their inhibitors (tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases; TIMPs) and contractile capacity.

Results: CFs, grown under standard culture conditions in the absence of a hypercortisolemic milieu, exhibited an increased proliferative capacity and a higher final cell culture density compared with NFs. Collagen synthesis, in the absence or presence of transforming growth factor-β, was equal to that of NFs. However, CFs secreted comparatively lower levels of MMP-1, MMP-2 and TIMP-1, and nearly equal levels of TIMP-2. CFs also exhibited an increased ability to contract gels of polymerized collagen.

Conclusions: Collectively, these functional characteristics of CFs are in contrast to the known catabolic effects of GCs, and suggest that prior exposure to GC excess is not associated with a persisting adverse outcome in the functional phenotype of the fibroblasts.

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Veronica Preda, Márta Korbonits, Simon Cudlip, Niki Karavitaki and Ashley B Grossman

Aim

To study the prevalence of germline mutations of the aryl-hydrocarbon receptor interacting protein (AIP) gene in a large cohort of patients seen in the Oxford Centre for Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism (OCDEM), UK, with apparently sporadic pituitary adenomas, who were either diagnosed or had relevant clinical manifestations by the age of 40 years.

Patients

We prospectively investigated all patients who were seen at Oxford University Hospital, OCDEM, and a tertiary referral centre, between 2012 and 2013, and presented with pituitary tumours under the age of 40 years and with no family history: a total of 127 patients were enrolled in the study.

Methods

Leukocyte-origin genomic DNA underwent sequence analysis of exons 1–6 and the flanking intronic regions of the AIP gene (NM_003977.2), with dosage analysis by multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification.

Results

AIP variants were detected in 3% of the 127 patients, comprising four of 48 patients with acromegaly (8%), 0 of 43 with prolactinomas, 0 of the 20 patients with non-functioning adenomas, 0 of 15 with corticotroph adenomas and 0 of one with a thyrotroph adenomas. Definite pathogenetic mutations were seen in 2/4 variants, comprising 4.2% of patients with acromegaly.

Conclusions

This prospective cohort study suggests a relatively low prevalence of AIP gene mutations in young patients with apparently sporadic pituitary adenomas presenting to a tertiary pituitary UK centre. Those with somatotroph macroadenomas have a higher rate of AIP mutation. These findings should inform discussion of genetic testing guidelines.