Scientists Discover Biological Reason Why Women Are More Likely to Develop Adrenal Disorders

Scientists have discovered a potential biological reason why women are more likely to develop adrenal disorders, including cancer. According to the researchers, the answer could lie in the increased turnover of hormone-producing cells found in the adrenal glands of females.

The adrenal gland is a hormone producing organ that sits on top of the kidneys. The outer part, or cortex, is responsible for the production of several hormones, including the stress-related hormone cortisol and the blood pressure controlling aldosterone. Adrenal cancer is relatively rare but occurs approximately three times more in women than in men. The cellular basis for this difference has not been investigated in detail but uncovering it might lead to sex-specific treatments and has huge implications for many areas of research.

Dr Andreas Schedl, from INSERM, France, who led the study said:

To our surprise we found that adrenal cells in female mice show a much more rapid turnover compared to males, which we could trace back to a different behaviour of adrenal stem cells between the two sexes. Furthermore, we could show that the observed differences are due to hormones that are produced by testes that suppress cell division, thus slowing down renewal in the male adrenal.”

The scientists studied the adrenal cortex of male and female adult mice and found that female mice replace their entire set of hormone-producing cells within 3 months, while it takes male mice an entire 9 months. Using different techniques to label cells within the adrenal cortex, they established that females not only have a higher proliferation rate of cells, but also recruit stem cells from a different part of the adrenal gland.

The research has wide reaching implications, as it demonstrates the basic mechanism underlying the increased turnover of cells within the adrenal gland, providing a possible explanation for the increased incidence of adrenal disorders in women.

Dr Schedl explained: “It is early days and many more experiments will need to be performed before our research can directly benefit patients. However, we believe that our study teaches a number of important lessons that are of immediate relevance to scientists, pharmacologists and clinicians.”

This research might lead to sex-specific treatment options for diseases like adrenal cancer and, according to Dr Schedl, could have implications on a far wider field of disorders: “Importantly, while our study concentrated on the adrenals, we are convinced that similar differences may also be found in other organ systems.”

Dr Helen Rippon, Chief Executive of the charity Worldwide Cancer Research, whose supporters helped fund the study, said: “Sex differences are not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about cancer research or treatments. But this study has shown that it is crucial to consider potential differences between male and female when trying to understand the basis of cancer biology. Most importantly, these findings could have implications for treatment options further down the line and highlight the importance of early-stage, discovery research. We are delighted to fund this kind of research, as we believe that these innovative approaches are ultimately going to lead to a world where no life is cut short by cancer.”

Worldwide Cancer Research, La Ligue Contre le Cancer and the ANR supported this research. The research was published in Cell Stem Cell.

Source:

Worldwide Cancer Research

Journal reference:

Grabek, A. et al. (2019) The Adult Adrenal Cortex Undergoes Rapid Tissue Renewal in a Sex-Specific MannerCell Stem Celldoi.org/10.1016/j.stem.2019.04.012.

From https://www.news-medical.net/news/20190522/Scientists-discover-biological-reason-why-women-are-more-likely-to-develop-adrenal-disorders.aspx

Cortisol Pumps May Be Viable Option to Reduce Adrenal Crisis in Severe Adrenal Insufficiency

The use of an insulin pump to deliver continuous pulsatile cortisol may be a viable treatment option in patients with severe adrenal insufficiency who are unresponsive to oral corticosteroids, according to study results presented at the 28th Annual Congress of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, held April 24 to 28, 2019, in Los Angeles, California.

According to the investigators, increasing oral steroid doses may be required to prevent adrenal crisis in patients with adrenal insufficiency. However, in light of the associated side effects of long-term use of steroids, an alternative treatment method is needed. Insulin pumps, typically used to treat patients with diabetes, can be used to deliver steroids and may provide symptom control, prevent adrenal crisis, and lower required corticosteroid dose.

The current study enrolled patients with adrenal insufficiency who could not absorb oral corticosteroid treatment or were not responding to treatment. Of 118 patients with adrenal insufficiency, 6 patients were switched to pump treatment.

The results indicated that the use of cortisol pumps was associated with a 78.5% risk reduction for adrenal crisis compared with oral corticosteroids. As hydrocortisone dose was gradually tapered using the cortisol pump, there was a mean dose reduction of 62.77 mg compared with oral corticosteroid therapy.

The researchers noted that in addition to reducing the number of adrenal crises, use of a cortisol pump was found to be associated with better symptom control and quality of life.

“Continuous pulsatile cortisol replacement via pump is an option for management of severe adrenal insufficiency in patients unresponsive to oral therapy,” concluded the researchers.

Reference

Khalil A, Ahmed F, Alzohaili O. Insulin pump for adrenal insufficiency, a novel approach to the use of insulin pumps to deliver corticosteroids in patients with poor cortisol absorption. Presented at: American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists 28th Annual Scientific & Clinical Congress; April 24-28, 2019; Los Angeles, CA.

From https://www.endocrinologyadvisor.com/home/conference-highlights/aace-2019/cortisol-pumps-may-be-viable-option-to-reduce-adrenal-crisis-in-severe-adrenal-insufficiency/

Cyclic Cortisol Production May Lead to Misdiagnosis in Cushing’s

Increased cortisol secretion may follow a cyclic pattern in patients with adrenal incidentalomas, a phenomenon that may lead to misdiagnosis, a study reports.

Since cyclic subclinical hypercortisolism may increase the risk for heart problems, researchers recommend extended follow-up with repeated tests to measure cortisol levels in these patients.

The study, “Cyclic Subclinical Hypercortisolism: A Previously Unidentified Hypersecretory Form of Adrenal Incidentalomas,” was published in the Journal of Endocrine Society.

Adrenal incidentalomas (AI) are asymptomatic masses in the adrenal glands discovered on an imaging test ordered for a problem unrelated to adrenal disease. While most of these benign tumors are considered non-functioning, meaning they do not produce steroid hormones like cortisol, up to 30% do produce and secrete steroids.

Subclinical Cushing’s syndrome is an asymptomatic condition characterized by mild cortisol excess without the specific signs of Cushing’s syndrome. The long-term exposure to excess cortisol may lead to cardiovascular problems in these patients.

While non-functioning adenomas have been linked with metabolic problems, guidelines say that if excess cortisol is ruled out after the first evaluation, patients no longer need additional follow-up.

However, cortisol secretion can be cyclic in Cushing’s syndrome, meaning that clinicians might not detect excess amounts of cortisol at first and misdiagnose patients.

In an attempt to determine whether cyclic cortisol production is also seen in patients with subclinical Cushing’s syndrome and whether these patients have a higher risk for metabolic complications, researchers in Brazil reviewed the medical records of 251 patients with AI — 186 women, median 60 years old — followed from 2006 to 2017 in a single reference center.

Cortisol levels were measured after a dexamethasone suppression test (DST). Dexamethasone is used to stop the adrenal glands from producing cortisol. In healthy patients, this treatment is expected to reduce cortisol levels, but in patients whose tumors also produce cortisol, the levels often remain elevated.

Patients were diagnosed with cyclic subclinical Cushing’s syndrome if they had at least two normal and two abnormal DST tests.

From the 251 patients, only 44 performed the test at least three times and were included in the analysis. The results showed that 20.4% of patients had a negative DST test and were considered non-functioning adenomas.

An additional 20.4% had elevated cortisol levels in all DST tests and received a diagnosis of sustained subclinical Cushing’s syndrome.

The remaining 59.2% had discordant results in their tests, with 18.3% having at least two positive and two negative test results, matching the criteria for cyclic cortisol production, and 40.9% having only one discordant test, being diagnosed as possibly cyclic subclinical Cushing’s syndrome.

Interestingly, 20 of the 44 patients had a normal cortisol response at their first evaluation. However, 11 of these patients failed to maintain normal responses in subsequent tests, with four receiving a diagnosis of cyclic subclinical Cushing’s syndrome and seven as possibly cyclic subclinical Cushing’s.

Overall, the findings suggest that patients with adrenal incidentalomas should receive extended follow-up with repeated DST tests, helping identify those with cyclic cortisol secretion.

“Lack of recognition of this phenomenon makes follow-up of patients with AI misleading because even cyclic SCH may result in potential cardiovascular risk,” the study concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2019/04/11/cyclic-cortisol-production-may-lead-to-misdiagnosis-in-cushings-study-finds/

Even in Remission, Cushing’s Patients Have Excess Mortality

Cushing’s disease patients in Sweden have a higher risk of death than the general Swedish population, particularly of cardiovascular complications, and that increased risk persists even in patients in remission, a large nationwide study shows.

The study, “Overall and disease-specific mortality in patients with Cushing’s disease: a Swedish nationwide study,” was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

The outcomes of Cushing’s disease patients have improved with the introduction of several therapeutic approaches, such as minimally invasive surgery and cortisol-lowering therapies. However, mortality is still high, especially among those who do not achieve remission.

While currently patients in remission are thought to have a better prognosis, it is still unclear whether these patients still have a higher mortality than the general population. Understanding whether these patients are more likely to die and what risk factors are associated with increased mortality is critical to reduce death rates among Cushing’s patients.

A team of Swedish researchers thus performed a retrospective study that included patients diagnosed with Cushing’s disease who were part of the Swedish National Patient Registry between 1987 and 2013.

A total of 502 patients with Cushing’s disease were included in the study, 419 of whom were confirmed to be in remission. Most patients (77%) were women; the mean age at diagnosis was 43 years, and the median follow-up time was 13 years.

During the follow-up, 133 Cushing’s patients died, compared to 54 expected deaths in the general population — a mortality rate 2.5 times higher, researchers said.

The most common causes of death among Cushing’s patients were cardiovascular diseases, particularly ischemic heart disease and cerebral infarctions. However, infectious and respiratory diseases (including pneumonia), as well as diseases of the digestive system, also contributed to the increased mortality among Cushing’s patients.

Of those in remission, 21% died, compared to 55% among those not in remission. While these patients had a lower risk of death, their mortality rate was still 90% higher than that of the general population. For patients who did not achieve remission, the mortality rate was 6.9 times higher.

The mortality associated with cardiovascular diseases was increased for both patients in remission and not in remission. Also, older age at the start of the study and time in remission were associated with mortality risk.

“A more aggressive treatment of hypertension, dyslipidemia [abnormal amount of fat in the blood], and other cardiovascular risk factors might be warranted in patients with CS in remission,” researchers said.

Of the 419 patients in remission, 315 had undergone pituitary surgery, 102 had had their adrenal glands removed, and 116 had received radiation therapy.

Surgical removal of the adrenal glands and chronic glucocorticoid replacement therapy were associated with a worse prognosis. In fact, glucocorticoid replacement therapy more than twice increased the mortality risk. Growth hormone replacement was linked with better outcomes.

In remission patients, a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus or high blood pressure had no impact on mortality risk.

Overall, “this large nationwide study shows that patients with [Cushing’s disease] continue to have excess mortality even after remission,” researchers stated. The highest mortality rates, however, were seen in “patients with persistent disease, those who were treated with bilateral adrenalectomy and those who required glucocorticoid replacement.”

“Further studies need to focus on identifying best approaches to obtaining remission, active surveillance, adequate hormone replacement and long-term management of cardiovascular and mental health in these patients,” the study concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2019/02/28/even-in-remission-cushings-patients-have-excess-mortality-swedish-study-says/

Laparoscopic Removal of Adrenal Glands Safe for Obese Cushing’s Patients

Laparoscopic adrenalectomy — a minimally invasive procedure that removes the adrenal glands through a tiny hole in the abdomen — can be safely performed in obese patients with Cushing’s syndrome, a retrospective study reports.

The surgery resolved symptoms in 95% of cases, reducing cortisol levels, lowering blood pressure, and leading to a significant loss of weight in morbidly obese patients.

The study, “Minimally invasive approach to the adrenal gland in obese patients with Cushing’s syndrome,” was published in the journal Minimally Invasive Therapy & Allied Technologies.

Cushing’s syndrome results from the prolonged secretion of excess cortisol, the major glucocorticoid hormone. While most cases are caused by tumors in the pituitary gland, up to 27% result from tumors in the adrenal glands.

In these cases, the standard therapeutic strategy is to remove one or both adrenal glands, a surgical procedure called adrenalectomy. However, because glucocorticoids are key hormones regulating fat metabolism, Cushing’s syndrome patients are known to be prone to obesity, a feature that is often associated with post-operative complications.

In this study, researchers aimed to compare the outcomes of morbidly obese patients versus the mildly obese and non-obese who underwent a minimally invasive procedure to remove their adrenal glands.

The approach, called laparoscopic adrenalectomy, inserts tiny surgical tools through a small hole in the abdomen, along with a camera that helps guide the surgeon.

The study included 228 patients (mean age 53.4 years). Of them, 62 were non-obese, 87 were moderately obese, and 79 were considered morbidly obese. There were 121 patients with tumors in the right adrenal gland, 96 in the left gland, and 11 in both glands.

High blood pressure was the most common symptom, affecting 66.7% of the participants.

Surgery lasted 101 minutes on average, and patients remained in the hospital for a median 4.3 days afterward. Six patients had to be converted into an open surgery because of uncontrollable loss of blood or difficulties in the procedure. Post-surgery complications, most of which were minor, were seen in seven patients.

One patient had blood in the peritoneal cavity and had to have surgery again; another patient had inflammation of the pancreas that required a longer admission.

The analysis showed no statistical differences among the three groups regarding the length of surgery, length of stay in the hospital, or the rate of conversion into open surgery.

However, in obese women, surgeons chose a different surgical incision when removing the left adrenal gland, “suggesting that the distribution of visceral fat in these patients could constitute a drawback for the [standard] approach,” researchers said.

After the surgery, 95% of patients saw their symptoms resolve, including cortisol levels, high blood pressure, and glucose metabolism, and none had a worsening of symptoms in the 6.3 years of follow-up. Obese patients also showed a significant reduction in their weight — 2 kg by 18 months, and 5 kg by the end of follow-up.

Overall, “laparoscopic adrenalectomy is safe and feasible in obese patients affected with Cushing’s disease and it can lead to the resolution of the related symptoms,” researchers said.

The benefits of the surgery in patients with Cushing’s syndrome “could be extended to the improvements and in some cases to the resolution of hypercortisolism related symptoms (i.e. hypertension or even morbid obesity),” the study concluded.

Adapted from https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2019/02/07/laparoscopic-removal-of-adrenal-glands-safe-for-obese-cushings-patients/

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