Mifepristone (RU 486) blocks the action of cortisol by binding to the glucocorticoid receptor and, therefore, is of potential therapeutic value in Cushing's syndrome. However, research in endogenous hypercortisolism has been hampered by the controversy related to the use of mifepristone for inducing abortion. Currently, new studies are planned to better define the role of RU 486 in Cushing's syndrome. This paper reviews the available evidence concerning the therapeutic effects and adverse events of RU 486 in Cushing's syndrome.
Original articles and reviews were identified using a PubMed search strategy covering the time period until February 2007.
Treatment of Cushing's syndrome with mifepristone has been reported in a total of 18 patients, with daily doses ranging from 5 to 30 mg/kg. Case reports indicate that the mifepristone-induced receptor blockade may lead to significant clinical improvement in patients with Cushing's syndrome in whom surgery and inhibitors of adrenal steroidogenesis fail to control hypercortisolism. Due to its rapid onset of action, mifepristone may be particularly useful in acute crises, e.g. in cortisol-induced psychosis. Side effects include adrenal insufficiency and, as a result of its antiprogestin action, endometrial hyperplasia in long-term treatment. Adrenal insufficiency can be assessed only by careful clinical evaluation, as the hormonal parameters are not reliable during receptor blockade, and is rapidly reversed by exogenous dexamethasone. Well-designed larger clinical trials are needed to better assess the value of this interesting drug in the treatment of Cushing's syndrome.