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G. Faglia, B. Ambrosi, P. Beck-Peccoz and P. Travaglini


Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function was investigated in 43 patients with pituitary tumours (22 acromegalics and 21 chromophobe adenomas) and in 7 patients with craniopharyngiomas. The subjects were divided into two groups, according to the intrasellar or to the suprasellar spread of the tumour. Plasma and urinary 17-OHCS were evaluated in basal conditions and after the following tests: ACTH, metyrapone, dexamethasone, LVP, hypoglycaemia and pyrogen.

Only in 10 subjects were all the tests normal, while there was a complete lack of response to the performed tests in 12 cases.

Under basal conditions a reduced urinary 17-OHCS excretion was observed in 24% of the patients, while plasma 17-OHCS levels appeared to be decreased only in 10 % of patients.

The adrenal reserve was reduced in 4 % of the cases. A greater frequency of negative responses (40 %) was shown by the metyrapone test. Dexamethasone administration failed to suppress plasma 17-OHCS in 29 % of the subjects. The LVP test demonstrated abnormal results in 42 % of the patients examined.

The hypoglycaemia test caused the greatest percentage of impaired responses (58 %) and the pyrogen test gave a higher incidence of normal results.

Our data suggest that the incidence of impaired tests is greater in patients with pituitary tumours with suprasellar spread which particularly tend to cause hypothalamic damage.

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C Asteria, L Persani, M Ferrari and P Beck-Peccoz

This study analyzed the structural differences of the carbohydrate chains of circulating free alpha-submit (alpha-SU) hypersecreted in various non-tumoral (primary hypothyroids, postmenopausal women, patients with chronic uremia, normal fetuses) and tumoral (gut carcinoids, TSH-, GH- and pure alpha-secreting pituitary adenomas) clinical conditions. Carbohydrate structures of free alpha-SU were investigated by means of lectin affinity chromatography using Concanavalin A (Con-A), which allows the separation of free alpha-SU in three different fractions (unbound = UB, weakly bound = WB and firmly bound = FB) depending on the nature and maturation of glycosylated chains. The concentrations of alpha-SU in serum and in Con-A fractions were measured by a sensitive and specific IRMA. Free alpha-SU hypersecreted from postmenopausal women, primary hypothyroids, and patients with chronic uremia showed similar binding patterns to Con-A, the percentage of UB fractions (UB: 44.5 +/- 1.9%, 39.5 +/- 3.8%, 48.2 +/- 5.6% respectively) being higher than both WB and FB fractions (WB: 33.2 +/- 1.4%, 30.7 +/- 4.6%, 28.5 +/- 2.1%; FB: 22.3 +/- 0.7%, 29.8 +/- 6.6%, 23.3 +/- 4.2% respectively). In normal fetuses the amount of UB fraction was very high (UB: 70.7 +/- 5.4%). Free alpha-SU from patients with TSH- and GH-secreting adenomas showed a binding pattern to Con-A significantly different from that observed in postmenopausal women taken as controls, the WB fractions being significantly higher (WB: 56.9 +/- 16.8% and 71 +/- 12.4% respectively, P < 0.001). A typical pattern of elution on Con-A, characterized by a prevalence of immature alpha-SU molecules eluted in the FB fraction, was found in patients with pure alpha-secreting adenomas. This chromatographic behavior was significantly different from that seen in the controls, as well as in other pituitary tumors and in gut carcinoids (FB: 41.8 +/- 5.0%, 22.3 +/- 0.7%, 16.8 +/- 6.6%, 10.6 +/- 2.0% respectively). Moreover, in these latter patients the pattern of free alpha-SU binding was exactly the opposite of that observed in pure alpha-secreting adenomas, with a prevalence of mature alpha-SU molecules (UB: 59.1 +/- 4.4 vs 18.3 +/- 7.2%). In conclusion, our data on Con-A affinity chromatography clearly demonstrate that carbohydrate branching of circulating free alpha-SU varies in patients with pituitary adenomas as compared with patients with gut carcinoids or other non-tumoral conditions. Moreover, the finding of a greater proportion of circulating free alpha-SU forms that firmly bind to Con-A in patients with pure alpha-secreting adenomas, seems to be pathognomonic of non-functioning pituitary adenomas.

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C Asteria, JH Oliveira, J Abucham and P Beck-Peccoz

BACKGROUND: One of the causes of combined pituitary hormone deficiency (CPHD) is represented by Prophet of Pit-1 (PROP-1) gene inactivating mutations. This disorder is generally characterized by GH, TSH, prolactin (PRL), and gonadotropin deficiency, but recent papers have described a concomitant alteration of the corticotrope function. OBJECTIVE: To make a detailed investigation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in two sisters with PROP-1 gene mutations. PATIENTS: Two female siblings (17 and 16 years old) with CPHD, belonging to a Brazilian family of consanguineous parents, presented with growth retardation and central hypothyroidism during childhood, and showed central hypogonadism at the age of puberty. No clear clinical symptoms and signs of hypocortisolism were present. METHODS: GH, TSH, free thyroxine, total tri-iodothyronine, PRL, LH, FSH, ACTH and cortisol were measured in basal condition and after appropriate testing. The molecular study was performed by PCR amplification and sequencing analysis of PROP-1 gene. RESULTS: Both patients showed GH, PRL, LH and FSH deficiencies, associated with absent responses to an insulin tolerance test (ITT), TRH and GnRH injection. Circulating concentrations of TSH were normal in basal conditions, but failed to respond to a TRH test. Plasma ACTH concentrations were normal, but serum cortisol concentrations were below the lower limit of the normal range, showing a trend to decrease during 6 years of follow-up. The serum ACTH response to ITT was impaired, whereas its response to CRH was normal and prolonged. The cortisol response to both tests, and to the ACTH test, was clearly impaired. In both sisters, the genetic analysis showed the presence of a homozygous 2-bp deletion (296delGA) of PROP-1 gene, which results in the synthesis of a protein with no residual functional activity. CONCLUSION: In addition to GH, TSH, PRL and gonadotropin deficiency, patients with PROP-1 gene mutations can present with late-onset central hypocortisolism, possibly beause of the lack of important paracrine factors normally produced by the cells surrounding the corticotropes and absent in the pituitary of these patients, or because of progressive corticotrope apoptosis. This finding indicates the need for life-long endocrine monitoring of PROP-1-deficient patients.

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G. Faglia, P. Beck-Peccoz, B. Ambrosi, C. Ferrari and P. Travaglini


The effects of thyrotrophin releasing hormone (TRH) on plasma thyrotrophin (HTSH), thyroxine iodine (T4-I), growth hormone (HGH) and cortisol were studied in healthy and endocrinopathic subjects. In normal subjects rapid iv injection of 100, 200, 400, 600, 800 μg of TRH caused definite increases in plasma HTSH with a dose-response correlation between 100 and 200 μg; the peak occurred at 20–30 min at any dose level; iv infusion of 1000 μg over 30 min was followed by highly variable rises in plasma HTSH; the oral administration of 20 mg caused a definite and prolonged increase. In endocrinopathic subjects a standard dose of 600 μg of TRH was rapidly iv injected: 5 euthyroid patients with high 131I thyroidal uptake showed a normal increase in HTSH; 10 cases of Graves' disease, 5 of hyperactive adenomas as well as 4 normal subjects pre-treated with triiodothyronine showed no response; out of 5 cases of Graves' disease re-investigated after remission 3 showed no response, while 2 had an exaggerated response; 5 cases of primary myxoedema showed a very marked and prolonged response; out of 2 patients with idiopathic secondary hypothyroidism 1 did not respond at all and 1 showed a large and prolonged increase with a late peak; out of 4 cases of secondary hypothyroidism due to pituitary tumours, 2 gave normal responses, 1 showed a very marked and prolonged rise and 1 had a poor response; the same subject, after selective adenomectomy, however, had an exaggerated response; 12 euthyroid patients with pituitary tumours were examined: 3 did not respond at all, 4 had a normal increase in plasma HTSH and 5 gave a prolonged and exaggerated response. The serum T4-I showed an upward trend after TRH iv; however, the increase was not present in all instances. After oral administration of TRH a more definite increase was reached. It was demonstrated that TRH does not promote the release of HGH and ACTH.

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D Cortelazzi, PS Morpurgo, P Zamperini, DA Fisher, P Beck-Peccoz and SY Wu

OBJECTIVE: The diagnosis of fetal hypothyroidism is based at present on measurements of TSH and free thyroxine (FT4) in fetal blood samples obtained by cordocentesis. The measurement of maternal serum and urinary concentrations of compound W, immunologically similar to but chromatographically distinct from diiodothyronine sulfate (T2S), has been advocated as a new possible marker for fetal hypothyroidism. DESIGN: In this paper, we measured serum compound W levels in 84 pregnant women, 20 with and 64 without thyroid disorders before and during specific treatment. Compound W was also assessed in fetal blood obtained by cordocentesis from 49 normal fetuses and 4 fetuses with suspected hypothyroidism due to transplacental passage of propylthiouracil (PTU). Compound W levels were measured by T2S RIA in maternal and fetal serum. To assess the possible usefulness of 3, 5,3'-triiodothyroacetic acid (TRIAC) for therapy of fetal hypothyroidism we evaluated the transplacental passage of TRIAC by administering the drug to four pregnant women before therapeutic abortion. RESULTS: In normal pregnancies, both maternal and fetal compound W levels increased progressively during gestation with a significant direct correlation (P<0.001, in both mothers and fetuses). Moreover, a significant positive correlation was observed between fetal compound W and fetal FT4 values (P<0.005), whereas no correlation was observed between maternal serum compound W and maternal FT4 in either euthyroid or hyperthyroid women, suggesting the fetal origin of compound W. The hypothyroid fetuses of PTU-treated mothers showed low compound W levels, and maternal compound W values were in the low normal range and did not show the typical increase during progression of gestation. A significant increase of maternal compound W was observed when the PTU dose was reduced. TRIAC was documented to cross the placental barrier and the treatment of a hyperthyroid pregnant woman on PTU caused the high fetal TSH levels and goiter to normalize. CONCLUSIONS: Serial measurements of 3,3'-T2S crossreactive materials (compound W and 3, 3'-diiodothyroacetic acid sulfate) in maternal blood and the administration of TRIAC to the mother may represent a useful and safe alternative to invasive techniques for the diagnosis and therapy of fetal hypothyroidism.

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V Cappiello, C Ronchi, PS Morpurgo, P Epaminonda, M Arosio, P Beck-Peccoz and A Spada

BACKGROUND: Ghrelin exerts a wide range of metabolic functions. In contrast to the body of information accumulated on the role of ghrelin on energy balance, the possible relevance of the peptide on GH secretion in physiological and pathological conditions has so far been poorly investigated. AIM: The aim of the present study was to evaluate circulating ghrelin levels in acromegalic patients in basal conditions and in response to oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). PATIENTS: Serum ghrelin, insulin and leptin levels were measured in 31 healthy normal weight subjects as controls, 25 patients with simple obesity and 17 non-diabetic acromegalic patients. Ghrelin and insulin response to OGTT was evaluated in six controls, four obese and six acromegalic patients. RESULTS: The acromegalic patients showed ghrelin levels lower than those observed in normal weight subjects (201+/-20 vs 329+/-32 pmol/l, P<0.05) and similar to those found in obese subjects (165+/-14 pmol/l, P=not significant). Both obese and acromegalic patients had insulin levels significantly higher than controls, while high levels of leptin were detected only in obese subjects. Serum ghrelin levels showed a significant negative correlation with insulin, leptin and body mass index (P<0.05) in normal and obese subjects. No correlation was observed in acromegalic patients, although those with severe insulin resistance showed the lowest ghrelin values (161+/-20 pmol/l). In controls and obese subjects, ghrelin levels showed a significant decrease (25-40%) during OGTT, while no effect was detectable in acromegalic patients. CONCLUSIONS: This study reports that patients with active acromegaly show low levels of circulating ghrelin that are not further reduced by OGTT, this pattern of secretion probably depending on both GH-induced insulin resistance and the putative GH/IGF-I negative feedback control on ghrelin secretion.

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S Corbetta, P Englaro, S Giambona, L Persani, WF Blum and P Beck-Peccoz

Leptin is the protein product of the ob gene, secreted by adipocytes. It has been suggested that it may play an important role in regulating appetite and energy expenditure. The aim of this study was to evaluate a possible interaction of thyroid hormones with the leptin system. We studied 114 adult patients (65 females and 49 males): 36 were affected with primary hypothyroidism (PH), 38 with central hypothyroidism (CH) and 40 with thyrotoxicosis (TT). Patients with CH were studied both before and after 6 months of L-thyroxine replacement therapy. Body mass index (BMI; kg/m2), thyroid function and fasting serum leptin were assessed in all patients. Since BMI has been proved to be the major influencing variable of circulating leptin levels, data were expressed as standard deviation score (SDS) calculated from 393 male and 561 female controls matched for age and BMI. No difference in SDS was recorded between males and females whatever the levels of circulating thyroid hormones. In males, no significant difference was recorded among the SDSs of PH (-0.36 +/- 1.2), TT (-0.35 +/- 1.2) and CH (0.01 +/- 1.4) patients. Females with PH had an SDSs significantly lower than TT females (-0.77 +/- 1.0 vs -0.06 +/- 1.2; P < 0.02), while no significant differences between CH (-0.34 +/- 0.7) and TT females or between CH and PH females were observed. SDS in CH patients after 6 months of L-thyroxine therapy significantly varied only in females (0.25 +/- 1.4). In conclusion, circulating thyroid hormones do not appear to play any relevant role in leptin synthesis and secretion. However, as females with either overt hypo- or hyper-thyroidism or central hypothyroidism after L-thyroxine therapy show differences in their SDSs, a subtle interaction between sex steroids and thyroid status in modulating leptin secretion, at least in women, may occur.

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G. Faglia, C. Ferrari, V. Neri, P. Beck-Peccoz, B. Ambrosi and F. Valentini


Out of 62 patients with pituitary tumours two (B. M.: vascular tumour and D. G.: chromophobe adenoma) showed symptoms and signs of hyperthyroidism and high plasma thyrotrophin (HTSH) values (mean values 24.0 and 8.4 μU/ml respectively). A parallelism was found between the Human Thyroid Stimulating Hormone Research Standard A (HTSH RSA) and the plasma dilution curves suggesting identity between immunoreactive material and authentic HTSH. The biological TSH activity was determined by McKenzie bioassay. Methimazole administration did not induce any significant modification in case B. M. while in case D. G. it caused a further increase in plasma HTSH. The triiodothyronine suppression test carried out in patient B. M. failed to produce a full inhibition, suggesting an autonomous function of the TSH secreting system. Lysine-vasopressin was ineffective in promoting HTSH increases in both cases, while insulin induced hypoglycaemia provoked in case B. M. a prompt fall in plasma HTSH levels, followed by an increase over the base line. The data obtained in case B. M. are compatible with a TSH-induced hyperthyroidism, while those found in patient D. G., though suggestive, are not completely consistent with this interpretation.

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MC Ferrari, R Parini, MD Di Rocco, G Radetti, P Beck-Peccoz and L Persani

OBJECTIVE: The congenital disorders of glycosylation (CDGs) are progressive multisystemic disorders characterized by a heterogeneous deficiency of the carbohydrate moieties in various structural and circulating glycoproteins, representing a natural model for glycoprotein hormone studies. Here, we studied the carbohydrate moiety of circulating glycoprotein hormones in four patients with a clinical suspicion of CDGs. METHODS: The diagnosis of CDG-I was confirmed in two out of the four cases by transferrin isoelectrofocusing (IEF) and/or carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT) test. The carbohydrate moiety of serum endocrine-related glycoproteins was investigated by means of Ricin (immunopurified thyrotropin (TSH)) and Concanavalin A (Con-A) (TSH, follicle-stimulating hormone, alpha-subunit and thyroglobulin) lectin affinity chromatography measurement. RESULTS: CDT concentrations were very high in the two patients with CDG-I and moderately enhanced in the remaining two. In the two CDG-I patients, Ricin analysis of immunopurified TSH showed a severe impairment of lectin binding, both before and after neuroaminidase treatment, indicating a nearly complete lack of terminal sialic acid and galactose residues. In these two cases, Con-A analysis showed a significant prevalence of firmly bound isoforms with poorly processed carbohydrate chains. In the remaining two cases with unknown CDG classification, TSH binding pattern to Ricin was modestly affected and Con-A analysis showed the prevalence of weakly bound glycoprotein isoforms. CONCLUSIONS: The results of Ricin analyses in all four patients were consistent with the CDT test and/or serum transferrin IEF. The severe alteration of TSH binding pattern to Ricin seems to be characteristic of CDG-I. Nevertheless, TSH biological properties are not severely altered, as normal thyroid function was found in both cases.

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S Corbetta, R Angioni, A Cattaneo, P Beck-Peccoz and A Spada

Objective: In vitro and in vivo models indicate that all-trans retinoic acids influence glucose and lipid metabolism. We aimed to evaluate the effects of chronic treatment with acitretin, an all-trans retinoic acid, on glucose metabolism, lipid profile and adiponectin and resistin levels.

Design: Ten normoglycemic, normolipemic patients affected with psoriasis vulgaris were studied before and after 1 and 3 months of oral treatment with 35 μg of acitretin.

Methods: Glucose metabolism, lipid profile, and adiponectin and resistin levels were evaluated in basal conditions and after acitretin treatment. Ten healthy subjects matched for age, body mass index (BMI) and insulin sensitivity were studied as controls.

Results: One-month acitretin treatment reduced psoriasis activity, insulin sensitivity, evaluated as QUICKI values (0.364 ± 0.034 versus 0.329 ± 0.051; P < 0.05) and HOMA-IR index (1.53 ± 0.73 versus 2.59 ± 1.41; P < 0.05), and high-density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol levels (45.2 ± 11.7 versus 39.4 ± 10.4 mg/dl; P = 0.01). The impairment in glucose and lipid homeostasis was transient and not associated to BMI variations. Adiponectin levels did not change during the treatment, while resistin levels, which were higher in untreated patients than in controls (9.4 ± 4.4 versus 6.2 ± 2.1 ng/ml; P = 0.05), fell within the normal range after 1 and 3 months of therapy. The normalization of resistin levels occurred without significant changes in circulating tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) levels, which persisted elevated throughout the treatment.

Conclusions: Treatment with a low dose of acitretin induced a mild, transient reduction of insulin sensitivity and HDL-cholesterol levels that was not related to modifications of adiponectin, resistin and TNFα levels. Although the role of resistin in humans remains elusive, the levels of this adipocytokine seem to be affected, at least in part, by retinoids.