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Renato Pasquali and Alessandra Gambineri

Hirsutism is a common medical complaint among women of reproductive age, and it affects the majority of women with the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Increased rate of androgen production and its availability in tissue represent the main pathophysiological mechanisms responsible for hirsutism. In addition, androgens may be generated de novo in the hair follicle; therefore, circulating androgen levels do not quantify the real exposure of the hair follicle to androgens, as a quota is locally generated. Hirsutism is a clinical sign and not a disease in itself; its presence does not therefore necessarily require treatment, particularly in mild-to-moderate forms, and when an affected woman does not worry about it. Physicians should decide whether hirsutism is to be treated or not by evaluating not only the severity of the phenomenon but also the subjective perception of the patient, which does not necessarily correspond to the true extent of hair growth. In any case, a physician should manage a woman with hirsutism only on the basis of a diagnosis of the underlying cause, and after a clear explanation of the efficacy of each therapeutic choice. Cosmetic procedures and pharmacological intervention are commonly used in the treatment of hirsutism and are discussed in this paper. Importantly, there are different phenotypes of women with hirsutism and PCOS that may require specific attention in the choice of treatment. In particular, when obesity is present, lifestyle intervention should be always considered, and if necessary combined with pharmacotherapy.

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Renato Pasquali and Alessandra Gambineri

Insulin-sensitizing agents have been recently proposed as the therapy of choice for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), since insulin resistance and associated hyperinsulinemia are recognized as important pathogenetic factors of the syndrome. Moreover, since almost all obese PCOS women and more than half of those of normal weight are insulin resistant, and therefore present some degree of hyperinsulinemia, the use of insulin sensitizers should be suggested in most patients with PCOS. Insulin sensitizer treatment has been associated with a reduction in serum androgen levels and gonadotropins, and with an improvement in serum lipids and in prothrombotic factor plasminogen-activator inhibitor type 1, whatever the insulin sensitizer used. This therapy has also been associated with a decrease in hirsutism and acne, and with a regulation of menses and an improvement of ovulation and fertility. Notable improvements in all these parameters have also been described after a change in lifestyle approach, particularly in the presence of obesity. Lifestyle interventions should therefore be combined with insulin sensitizers in PCOS when obesity is present.

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Renato Pasquali, Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis and Alessandra Gambineri

PCOS is a clinical heterogeneous entity of female androgen excess diagnosed by exclusion of other disorders responsible for androgen excess. The concept of secondary PCOS implies that there is a primary well-defined cause leading to the PCOS phenotype with underlying androgen overproduction, regardless of the origin. In these cases, we presume the term of ‘secondary PCOS’ could be used. In all these conditions, the potential complete recovery of the hyperandrogenemic state as well as the remission of the PCOS phenotype should follow the removal of the cause. If accepted, these concepts could help clinicians to perform in-depth investigations of the potential factors or disorders responsible for the development of these specific forms of secondary PCOS. Additionally, this could contribute to develop further research on factors and mechanisms involved in the development of the classic and the nonclassic PCOS phenotypes.

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Guido Di Dalmazi, Renato Pasquali, Felix Beuschlein and Martin Reincke

Subclinical hypercortisolism (SH), defined as alterations of the hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis in the absence of clinical signs or symptoms related to cortisol secretion, is a common finding in patients with adrenal incidentalomas. The clinical correlates of this pathological condition have become clearer over the last few years. The aim of this review is to summarize the co-morbidities and the clinical outcomes of patients with SH. According to the analysis of the results of the studies published within the last 15 years, hypertension and type 2 diabetes are a common finding in patients with SH, occurring roughly in 2/3 and 1/3 of the patients respectively. Moreover, several additional cardiovascular and metabolic complications, like endothelial damage, increased visceral fat accumulation and impaired lipid metabolism have been shown to increase the cardiovascular risk of those patients. Accordingly, recent independent reports investigating the natural history of the disease in a long-term follow-up setting have shown that patients with SH have a higher incidence of cardiovascular events and related mortality. Moreover, longitudinal studies have also shown increased incidence of osteoporotic vertebral fractures. Future research is needed to improve the diagnostic performance of hormonal tests, by assessment of the complete steroid profile with more accurate assays, and to define the efficacy of surgical vs medical treatment in a randomized-controlled setting.

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Roberto Paradisi, Gabriele Grossi, Stefano Venturoli, Maurizio Capelli, Otello Magrini, Eleonora Porcu, Renato Pasquali and Carlo Flamigni

Abstract. To investigate the role of brain catecholamine (CA) activity in the mechanisms related to physiological ovulatory function, we used high-performance liquid chromatography with electrochemical detector to measure the levels of urinary dopamine (DA), norepinephrine (NE), epinephrine (E), vanillylmandelic acid (VMA), homovanillic acid (HVA), 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC), and total 3-methoxy-4-hydroxy-phenylglycol (MHPG) in a group of 12 normal women during both the early follicular and pre-ovulatory phases of the menstrual cycle. The mean (± sem) concentrations of HVA and DOPAC were significantly lower (P < 0.001) during the pre-ovulatory phase than during the early follicular phase, whereas those of DA, NE, E, VMA and total MHPG were unaltered. A significant negative correlation between urinary HVA and plasma LH (r = −0.70, P < 0.01) was also found during the pre-ovulatory period, whereas no significant negative correlations were found between urinary HVA and plasma PRL, progesterone and oestradiol. These data show: 1) reduced brain DA activity and 2) unchanged brain NE activity at the time of the midcycle surge in normal women, suggesting a physiological variation of the central DA metabolism in ovulatory function.

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Renato Pasquali, Francesco Casimirri, Stefano Venturoli, Roberto Paradisi, Loretta Mattioli, Nazario Melchionda and Giuseppe Labò

Abstract. Using a combined infusion of somatostatin, insulin and glucose, insulin resistance was assessed in vivo in two groups of females with polycystic ovaries (PCO), obese (OB-PCO) and normal weight (NO-PCO) and in two groups of matched (for age, sex and body mass index) controls (OB and NO). A steady state plasma glucose (SSPG) and insulin (SSPI) was attained after 90 min. OB-PCO and NO-PCO showed higher SSPG with respect to matched controls. The SSPG levels were related to body mass index (r = 0.69; P < 0.001). The SSPG values were significantly correlated with the fasting insulin levels (r = 0.47; P < 0.003). Gonadotrophin and steroid peripheral blood concentrations were also evaluated in the PCO females. A significant correlation was found between the SSPG values and the dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate levels (r = 0.46; P < 0.05) and between the fasting insulin levels and the androstenedione concentrations (r = 0.64; P <0.01). 0.01). Moreover, significant correlation coefficients were found between the glucose to insulin ratio and the A (r = −0.59; P < 0.01) and the DHEA-S (r = −0.50; P <0.05) plasma levels. Finally, no relationship between body mass index and A or DHEA-s levels was found in PCO females considered as a group. We conclude that insulin resistance is present in females with PCO and it is mainly dut to the presence of obesity, but other factors such as androgen levels, probably of adrenal sources, must be considered as a cause.

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Renato Pasquali, Alessandra Gambineri, Carla Cavazza, Daniela Ibarra Gasparini, Walter Ciampaglia, Graciela Estela Cognigni and Uberto Pagotto


Treatment of obesity improves all features of the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). There is, however, a heterogeneous response to weight loss, and predictive factors are unknown.


This follow-up study aimed to investigate obese women with PCOS treated with a long-term lifestyle program to evaluate responsiveness and predictability.


One hundred PCOS women meeting the criteria for selection were invited to participate and 65 of them agreed. Lifestyle intervention had consisted of a 1200–1400 kcal/day diet for 6 months, followed by mild calorie restriction and physical activity. The protocol, which was similar at baseline and follow-up, included anthropometry, clinical evaluation, pelvic ultrasound, and laboratory investigations. The mean follow-up period was 20.4±12.5 months.


After the follow-up period, women were reclassified into three groups according to the persistence (group 1, 15.4%), partial (group 2, 47.7%), or complete (group 3, 36.9%) disappearance of the categorical features of PCOS (hyperandrogenism, menses, and ovulatory dysfunctions). Duration of the follow-up and extent of weight loss were similar among the three groups, as were fasting and glucose-stimulated insulin and indices of insulin resistance. Baseline waist circumference, waist to hip ratio (WHR), and androstenedione blood levels were negatively correlated with a better outcome in the univariate analysis. However, only basal androstenedione values persisted to a highly significant extent (P<0.001) in the multivariate analysis.


Responsiveness to weight loss in overweight/obese PCOS women varies considerably and more than one third of women may achieve full recovery. These findings add new perspectives to the impact of obesity on the pathophysiology of PCOS.

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Valentina Vicennati, Silvia Genghini, Rosaria De Iasio, Francesca Pasqui, Uberto Pagotto and Renato Pasquali

Objective: We measured blood levels of obestatin, total ghrelin, and the ghrelin/obestatin ratio and their relationship with anthropometric and metabolic parameters, adiponectin and insulin resistance, in overweight/obese and normal-weight women.

Design: Outpatients Unit of Endocrinology of the S Orsola-Malpighi Hospital of Bologna, Italy.

Methods: Fasting obestatin, ghrelin, adiponectin and lipid levels, fasting and glucose-stimulated oral glucose tolerance test insulin, and glucose levels were measured in 20 overweight/obese and 12 controls. The fasting ghrelin/obestatin ratio was calculated; the homeostasis model assessment-IR (HOMA-IR) and insulin sensitivity index (ISIcomposite) were calculated as indices of insulin resistance.

Results: Obese women had higher obestatin and lower ghrelin blood levels, and a lower ghrelin/obestatin ratio compared with controls. In all subjects, obestatin was significantly and positively correlated with total cholesterol and triglycerides, but not with ghrelin, anthropometric, and metabolic parameters. In the obese women, however, obestatin and ghrelin concentrations were positively correlated. By contrast, the ghrelin/obestatin ratio was significantly and negatively correlated with body mass index, waist, waist-to-hip ratio, fasting insulin, and HOMA-IR, and positively with ISIcomposite but not with adiponectin. None of these parameters were correlated with the ghrelin/obestatin ratio in the obese.

Conclusions: Increased obestatin, decreased ghrelin levels, and a decreased ghrelin/obestatin ratio characterize obesity in women. This supports the hypothesis that the imbalance of ghrelin and obestatin may have a role in the pathophysiology of obesity. On the other hand, some relevant differences between our data on circulating levels of obestatin and the ghrelin/obestatin ratio in obese subjects and those reported in the few studies published so far imply that further research is needed.

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Renato Pasquali, Giovanna Baraldi, Francesco Casimirri, Loretta Mattioli, Maurizio Capelli, Nazario Melchionda, Fabio Capani and Giuseppe Labò

Abstract. The seasonal variations of iodothyronines and TSH serum concentrations were evaluated in 24 healthy subjects of both sexes. Using a 12 month cosine function, a significant circannual rhythm was found in T3, T4 and free T4 whose maximal values were found in September for T3, in August for T4 and in October for free T4. No significant seasonal variations in free T3 or TSH were found. Some circannual but not sinusoidal changes were found for reverse T3 and TBG. A positive linear correlation between T4, T3 and reverse T3 changes was observed, indicating that the sinusoidal oscillations of these hormones were in phase with each other. Relative weight was significantly lower in summer than in winter, though spontaneous caloric intake and physical activity did not change. A slight but significant correlation was found between relative weight and T4, free T4 and reverse T3 values measured during the period of study.

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Alessandra Gambineri, Flaminia Fanelli, Federica Tomassoni, Alessandra Munarini, Uberto Pagotto, Ruth Andrew, Brian R Walker and Renato Pasquali


Abnormal cortisol metabolism in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) has been invoked as a cause of secondary activation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and hence androgen excess. However, this is based on urinary excretion of cortisol metabolites, which cannot detect tissue-specific changes in metabolism and may be confounded by obesity.


To assess cortisol clearance and whole-body and tissue-specific activities of 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1 (HSD11B1)) in PCOS.


Case–control study.


Medical center.


A total of 20 overweight–obese unmedicated Caucasian women with PCOS, aged 18–45 years, and 20 Caucasian controls matched for age, BMI, body fat distribution, and HSD11B1 genotypes (rs846910 and rs12086634).

Main outcome measures

Cortisol metabolites were measured in 24 h urine. During steady-state 9,11,12,12-[2H]4-cortisol infusion, cortisol clearance was calculated and whole-body HSD11B1 activity was assessed as the rate of appearance of 9,12,12-2H3-cortisol (d3-cortisol). Hepatic HSD11B1 activity was quantified as the generation of plasma cortisol following an oral dose of cortisone. Subcutaneous adipose HSD11B1 activity and HSD11B1 mRNA were measured, ex vivo, in biopsies.


Urinary cortisol metabolite excretion, deuterated cortisol clearance, and the rate of appearance of d3-cortisol did not differ between patients with PCOS and controls. However, hepatic HSD11B1 conversion of oral cortisone to cortisol was impaired (P<0.05), whereas subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue HSD11B1 mRNA levels and activity were increased (P<0.05) in women with PCOS when compared with controls.


Tissue-specific dysregulation of HSD11B1 is a feature of PCOS, over and above obesity, whereas increased clearance of cortisol may result from obesity rather than PCOS.