Hypercortisolemic Cushing’s Patients Possess a Distinct Class of Hematopoietic Progenitor Cells Leading to Erythrocytosis

Abstract

Although human cultures stimulated with dexamethasone suggest that the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) activates stress erythropoiesis, the effects of GR activation on erythropoiesis in vivo remains poorly understood.

We characterized the phenotype of a large cohort of patients with Cushing’s Disease, a rare condition associated with elevated cortisol levels. Results from hypercortisolemic patients with active Cushing’s were compared with those obtained from eucortisolemic patients after remission and from non-diseased volunteers. Active Cushing’s patients exhibit erythrocytosis associated with normal hemoglobin F levels. In addition, their blood contained elevated numbers of the GR-induced CD163+ monocytes and a unique class of CD34+ cells expressing CD110, CD36, CD133 and the GR-target gene CXCR4.

When cultured, these CD34+ cells generated similarly large numbers of immature erythroid cells in the presence and absence of dexamethasone, with raised expression of the GR-target gene GILZ. Of interest, blood from Cushing’s patients in remission maintained high numbers of CD163+ monocytes and, although their CD34+ cells had a normal phenotype, these cells were unresponsive to added dexamethasone.

Collectively, these results indicate that chronic exposure to excess glucocorticoids in vivo leads to erythrocytosis by generating erythroid progenitor cells with a constitutively active GR.

Although remission rescues the erythrocytosis and the phenotype of the circulating CD34+ cells, a memory of other prior changes is maintained in remission.

From https://haematologica.org/article/view/haematol.2021.280542

Subclinical Hemorrhage of ACTH-secreting Pituitary Adenomas in Children and Adolescents Changes Their Biochemical Profile

Journal of the Endocrine Society, Volume 6, Issue 7, July 2022, bvac080, https://doi.org/10.1210/jendso/bvac080

Abstract

Context

Subclinical pituitary hemorrhage, necrosis, and/or cystic degeneration (SPH) presents mainly in large tumors and prolactinomas. The characteristics of patients with Cushing disease (CD) and SPH are not known.

Objective

To determine if SPH affects the presentation and biochemical profile of young patients with CD.

Methods

Pediatric and adolescent patients who were diagnosed with CD between 2005 and 2021 and available magnetic resonance imaging images were evaluated for SPH. The clinical and biochemical characteristics of patients with and without SPH were compared.

Results

Evidence of possible SPH was present in 12 out of 170 imaging studies (7.1%). Patients with and without SPH had similar age at diagnosis and sex distribution but differed in disease duration (median duration: 1.0 year [1.0-2.0] in the SPH group vs 2.5 years [1.5-3.0] in the non-SPH group, P = .014). When comparing their biochemical evaluation, patients with SPH had higher levels of morning adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) (60.8 pg/mL [43.5-80.3]) compared to patients without SPH (39.4 pg/mL [28.2-53.2], P = .016) and the degree of cortisol reduction after overnight high dose (8 mg or weight-based equivalent) dexamethasone was lower (–58.0% [–85.4 to –49.7]) compared to patients without SPH (85.8 [–90.5 to –76.8], P = .035). The presence of SPH did not affect the odds of remission after surgery or the risk of recurrence after initial remission.

Conclusion

SPH in ACTH-secreting pituitary adenomas may affect their biochemical response during endocrine evaluations. They may, for example, fail to suppress to dexamethasone which can complicate diagnosis. Thus, SPH should be mentioned on imaging and taken into consideration in the work up of pediatric patients with CD.

Acute hemorrhage or necrosis of pituitary adenomas (PAs), defined as pituitary apoplexy, is a rare life-threatening condition that requires emergent neurosurgical evaluation [1]. However, subclinical hemorrhage, necrosis, intratumor cystic degeneration, and/or infarct of PAs, herein all events included in the term subclinical pituitary hemorrhage (SPH) for brevity, may occur in up to 7% to 22% of all pituitary tumors [2-9]. SPH is not associated with significant clinical symptoms and is often discovered at the time of routine diagnostic evaluation [2-9].

Previous studies suggested that SPH is more common in large tumors, prolactin-secreting or nonfunctioning PAs, while other factors, such as initiation or withdrawal of treatment with dopamine agonists, use of anticoagulants and others, have also been hypothesized to be involved in this process [56]. Overall, adrenocorticotropin (ACTH)-secreting PAs represent small percentage of SPH (0%-3.2% of cases reported) [3568]. Although pituitary apoplexy is associated with pituitary hormone deficiencies, SPH has a lower if any effect on the function of the remaining pituitary gland when it occurs in nonfunctioning adenomas [34].

The diagnosis of Cushing syndrome (CS) involves elaborate and time-dependent tests that are based on cortisol secretion and its regulation by ACTH [10]. Furthermore, the differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent causes between ACTH-secreting PAs (Cushing disease, CD) and ectopic ACTH secretion is based on several dynamic tests, such as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) stimulation and dexamethasone suppression [11]. The biochemical profile of corticotropinomas with SPH to both baseline and dynamic endocrine tests is not known.

Materials and Methods

Participants

Individuals enrolled under the protocol 97-CH-0076 (ClinicalTrials.gov identifier NCT00001595) at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), from 2005 to 2020 with confirmed diagnosis of CD, were screened for eligibility in the study. Pediatric and adolescent patients (diagnosis age < 21 years) with imaging studies available before any surgical intervention were included in the analysis. Patients with previous surgery of the pituitary gland or who were evaluated during recurrence were excluded from the study since postoperative changes make imaging findings difficult to distinguish from true SPH, and biochemical presentation at recurrence often differs in severity from initial diagnosis. CS diagnosis was based on criteria defined by the Endocrine Society guidelines and adjusted for the pediatric and adolescent population as needed (abnormal measurements in at least 2 of the following criteria: elevated 24 hour urinary free cortisol [UFC], elevated midnight serum cortisol [> 4.4 mcg/dL in children or > 7.5 mcg/dL for patients age > 18 years], and/or failure to suppress cortisol to 1 mg [or weight-based equivalent dose] overnight dexamethasone suppression test [postdexamethasone cortisol > 1.8 mcg/dL]). CD diagnosis was based on postoperative histologic confirmation of ACTH-secreting PA in most cases, or remission after pituitary surgery even if histologic report failed to identify a PA in the studied material. Remission was defined as postoperative cortisol nadir of less than 2 mcg/dL and/or clinical/biochemical remission during follow-up.

Informed consent was obtained from parents and assent from patients if developmentally appropriate. Study procedures were approved by the NICHD and/or central National Institutes of Health Institutional Review Board.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scans

SPH was defined as minimal or no clinical symptoms reported by the patients (apart from those commonly associated with hypercortisolemia) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings consistent with hemorrhage, intratumor infarction, and/or intratumor cyst formation (suggesting old infarcts) based on the radiologist and the principal investigator’s (C.A.S.) assessment [1213]. MRI scans were performed based on standard clinical protocols as previously described [14]. Briefly, MRIs at the National Institutes of Health were performed before and after intravenous administration of gadolinium contrast material, with a gradient echo sequence and thin slices (≤ 1.5 mm). MRIs were performed in either a 1.5 Tesla or 3 Tesla MR machine from various manufacturers over time.

Clinical and Biochemical Data

Clinical and biochemical data were extracted from electronic medical records. Tumor size was recorded as the maximum dimension retrieved from the histology report. In cases where histologic report was not available, failed to identify a PA in the studied material, or if the histology report recorded only dimensions on fragments of the tumor, the maximum dimension was retrieved from the MRI images. If the MRI was negative and the histology was negative (but the patient achieved remission after surgery), the tumor size was recorded as missing.

Serum cortisol and plasma ACTH levels were calculated as the average value of the corresponding levels performed at 23:30 h and 00:00 h (reported as midnight values) and 07:30 h and 08:00 h (reported as morning values). Twenty-four–hour UFC was calculated as the average of the first 2 or 3 samples reported in the electronic medical records. Given the possible differences in the assays and reported reference range for UFC, we calculated the increase of UFC based on the upper limit of normal according to the following formula: UFC fold change = UFC/upper limit of the reference range. Serum cortisol was measured with solid-phase, competitive chemiluminescent enzyme immunoassay on a Siemens Immulite 2500 analyzer. Plasma ACTH was measured with a chemiluminescence immunoassay on a Siemens Immulite 200 XPi analyzer. UFC was measured with a chemiluminescent enzyme immunoassay until 2011 and with high-performance liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry since 2011. High-dose dexamethasone suppression test was performed as previously described. Briefly, oral dexamethasone (120 mcg/kg, max 8 mg) was administered at 23:00 and cortisol was measured before (8 AM the day of administration) and after (9 AM the day after dexamethasone administration). The change of cortisol was calculated as: 100* [(postdexamethasone cortisol – predexamethasone cortisol)/predexamethasone cortisol]. Levels of cortisol lower than the lower limit of detection of the assay (< 1 mcg/dL) were substituted with the intermediate value (0.5) for all analyses. CRH stimulation test was performed as previously described. Briefly, an intravenous catheter was placed in the forearm the night before testing; the patient was fasting and lying in bed, and ovine CRH (oCRH) was administered (1 mcg/kg, max 100 mcg). Samples for cortisol and ACTH were taken at –5, 0, 15, 30, and 45 minutes after the administration of oCRH. The response to the last was expressed as the percentage change from baseline by subtracting the pretest cortisol and ACTH values from the posttest values and dividing by the former. The mean cortisol increase was estimated at 30 and 45 minutes from baseline. For ACTH the mean increase was estimated at 15 and 30 minutes after the administration of oCRH. CRH stimulation test was not performed after the discontinuation of oCRH by the company in November 2020.

Statistical Analysis

Categorical data are described as counts (proportions) and were compared between groups using the Fisher exact test. Fisher odds ratio (OR) was used to assess the odds of remission based on the presence of SPH and is presented as OR and 95% CI.

Continuous data were checked for normality and not normally distributed data are presented as median (first quartile to third quartile) and were compared between 2 groups using Wilcoxon rank-sum test. The Cox proportional hazards test was used to assess the risk of recurrence based on the presence of SPH and is presented as hazard ratio (HR) and 95% CI. Statistical analyses were performed in R.

Results

Clinical Data

Out of 170 patients with available MRI before first surgery, 12 patients had evidence of possible SPH (7.1%) (Table 1). Various MRI findings were noted (Fig. 1), most commonly hyperintense lesions in T1 and T2 precontrast images (Fig. 1A and 1B), while some patients had intratumor heterogeneity suggestive of cystic formation (Fig. 1C-1F). As expected, the tumor size of patients with SPH as noted in histology reports or MRI images was higher than that in patients without SPH (median size: 8.5 mm [7.0-11.25] in the SPH group vs 5.4 mm [4-8] in the non-SPH group; P < .001).

 

Table 1.

Characteristics of patients with and without subclinical pituitary hemorrhage, necrosis, and/or cystic degeneration

No SPH (N = 158) SPH (N = 12) P
Age at diagnosis, y 13.0 (10.6 to 15.4) 12.5 (10.6 to 15.6) .95
Sex
 Female 89 (56.3%) 5 (41.7%) .49
 Male 69 (43.7%) 7 (58.3%)
Disease duration, y 2.50 (1.5 to 3.0)
n = 138
1.00 (1.0 to 2.0)
n = 10
.014
Morning cortisol, mcg/dL 16.2 (12.6 to 20.4)
n = 139
18.4 (13.7 to 27.5)
n = 10
.28
Midnight cortisol, mcg/dL 14.0 (10.7 to 19.7)
n = 133
16.3 (11.0 to 23.0)
n = 9
.52
UFC fold change 4.89 (2.51 to 8.50)
n = 131
8.81 (6.86 to 9.42)
n = 9
.18
Morning ACTH, pg/mL 39.4 (28.2 to 53.2)
n = 143
60.8 (43.5 to 80.3)
n = 10
.016
Cortisol change during CRH stimulation test, % 68.7 (33.3 to 111)
n = 128
46.0 (–7.46 to 90.7)
n = 8
.22
ACTH change during CRH stimulation test, % 145 (59.6 to 260)
n = 127
103 (–5.75 to 278)
n = 8
.55
Cortisol change during high-dose dexamethasone suppression test, % –85.8 (–90.5 to –76.8)
n = 120
–58.0 (–85.4 to –49.7)
n = 9
.035
Remission
 Yes 127 (80.4%) 10 (83.3%) .99
 No 25 (15.8%) 2 (16.7%)

Number in each cell reports the number of patients with available results.

Abbreviations: ACTH, adrenocorticotropin; CRH, corticotropin-releasing hormone; SPH, subclinical pituitary hemorrhage, necrosis, and/or cystic degeneration; UFC, urinary free cortisol.

 

Figure 1.

Imaging findings in patients with subclinical pituitary hemorrhage, necrosis, and/or cystic degeneration. A, T1, and B, T2 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the same patient showing area of high intensity inside the tumor suggesting acute/subacute episode. C, T2, and D, T1 MRI scans of the same patient showing heterogeneity in a large tumor with high-intensity areas suggesting blood-filled cavities and/or necrosis. E, T1, and F, T2 MRI scans of the same patient showing fluid inside the tumor.

Imaging findings in patients with subclinical pituitary hemorrhage, necrosis, and/or cystic degeneration. A, T1, and B, T2 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the same patient showing area of high intensity inside the tumor suggesting acute/subacute episode. C, T2, and D, T1 MRI scans of the same patient showing heterogeneity in a large tumor with high-intensity areas suggesting blood-filled cavities and/or necrosis. E, T1, and F, T2 MRI scans of the same patient showing fluid inside the tumor.

Patients with and without SPH were similar in age (median age: 12.5 years [10.6-15.6] in the SPH group vs 13.0 years [10.6-15.4] in the non-SPH group; P = .95) and sex distribution (n of female = 5 (41.7%) in the SPH group vs 89 (56.3%) in the non-SPH group; P = .49). Patients with SPH had a shorter duration of disease as noted by changes in their growth chart parameters (median duration: 1.0 [1.0-2.0] year in the SPH group vs 2.5 [1.5-3.0] years in the non-SPH group; P = .014).

Patients in the 2 groups did not differ on their anthropometric characteristics, including height and body mass index z scores(P > .05). They also had similar blood pressure parameters and did not differ in terms of the frequency of hypertension diagnosis. No patient was on anticoagulation treatment nor had received radiation at the time of the MRI. One patient in the SPH group had a history of lower leg deep vein thrombosis and was previously on low-heparin therapy, but he had stopped treatment at least 6 months before the MRI.

Biochemical Evaluation of Hypercortisolemia

Morning and midnight serum cortisol and 24-hour UFC levels were similar in both groups, but patients with SPH had higher levels of morning ACTH (60.8 pg/mL [43.5-80.3]) compared to patients without SPH (39.4 pg/mL [28.2-53.2]; P = .016). Changes in cortisol and ACTH levels during the CRH stimulation test were similar between the 2 groups, but patients with SPH who underwent the overnight high-dose dexamethasone suppression test (n = 8) had lower suppression of cortisol after dexamethasone (–58.0% [–85.4 to –49.7]) compared to patients without SPH (n = 120) (–86.0% [–90.5 to –76.7]; P = .035) (Fig. 2). When the cutoff of suppression of more than 69% was considered, patients with SPH had a lower chance of suppressing more than 69% compared to patients without SPH (OR: 0.18; 95% CI, 0.03-0.95).

 

Figure 2.

Cortisol levels before and after high-dose dexamethasone suppression test in patients with and without subclinical pituitary hemorrhage, necrosis, and/or cystic degeneration (SPH).

 Cortisol levels before and after high-dose dexamethasone suppression test in patients with and without subclinical pituitary hemorrhage, necrosis, and/or cystic degeneration (SPH).

Remission After Surgical Treatment and Risk for Recurrence

The chance of immediate postoperative remission after surgery was similar in patients with and without SPH. For patients with initial remission and follow-up of at least 3 months, analysis of the risk of recurrence did not show a difference in recurrence rate between the 2 groups (HR: 1.12; 95% CI, 0.13-9.4, in the SPH group compared to the non-SPH group, adjusting for the neurosurgeon).

Discussion

SPH is often an incidental finding in the imaging evaluation of patients with PAs. The frequency of SPH in patients with CD is low (7.1% in our study) but these patients may differ in terms of their history of shorter duration of symptoms and the biochemical evaluation. More specifically, patients with CD and SPH showed higher ACTH levels and lower suppression of cortisol to high-dose dexamethasone. This, however, did not affect their prognosis in terms of immediate postoperative remission and long-term risk of recurrence.

SPH has been mainly studied in cohorts of patients with various types of PAs. From these studies important conclusions have been made suggesting that the risk of SPH is higher in patients with large nonfunctioning PAs or prolactinomas. Other risk factors for pituitary apoplexy are thought to be size of the adenoma, change in size, initiation, and withdrawal of dopamine agonists, type of dopamine agonist, use of anticoagulants, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, head trauma, radiotherapy, and preceding dynamic endocrine testing.

Patients with CD often represent a small portion of these cohorts, and to our knowledge there is no study to investigate how these patients respond to stimulation/suppression tests. For that reason, we evaluated these findings in our cohort of only patients with ACTH-secreting adenomas. As most of our referrals involve pediatric patients, we limited our cohort only to patients diagnosed at younger than 21 years to have a more homogeneous group.

The pathogenesis of pituitary apoplexy has been hypothesized to lie in more friable vessels in PAs, which, while the tumor increases in size, are more susceptible to rupture or cause surrounding feeding vessels to extend and bleed [715]. CS, because of the coexisting hypercortisolemia, leads independently to endothelial dysfunction and coagulation defects, which are often apparent as easy bruising, thrombotic events, and other signs. However, review of the literature and the estimated frequency of SPH in our cohort suggest that patients with CD are not at increased risk for SPH, potentially related to the relatively small adenomas present in these patients [1617].

The main difference of patients with CD and SPH compared to those without lies in their biochemical testing, more characteristically in lower suppression to dexamethasone. The overnight high-dose dexamethasone suppression test was originally designed to differentiate various types of CS [18]. Although originally described as a highly accurate test, in clinical practice, cutoffs of 50% to 80% have shown variable sensitivity and specificity and certain centers opt not to use this test unless all other diagnostic evaluations yield confounding results [19-21]. In previous studies a threshold of suppression of more than 69% showed the highest accuracy (sensitivity: 71%, specificity: 100%), and we have incorporated this in our diagnostic algorithm (acknowledging the limitations of the test) [2223]. In our analysis, patients with SPH had lower suppression of cortisol under the effect of high-dose dexamethasone and a higher chance of not passing the aforementioned threshold. The mechanism for the lower suppression to dexamethasone of these tumors may be due to lower vascular circulation of dexamethasone at the level of the tumor, and/or the lower sensitivity of necrotic cells to the negative feedback by circulating glucocorticoids.

A limitation of this study was that the diagnosis of SPH was based on MRI findings. However, MRI sequences and machines differed between patients and over time. Thus, although large hemorrhagic/necrotic lesions are probably accurately identified, it is possible that smaller lesions are misclassified as negative; the effect of smaller hemorrhagic areas to the biochemical testing may however be smaller as well. Further, the MRIs were not read by a central radiologist, but rather from the radiologist on call at each time point, and this could lead to discrepancies in readings. In addition, our cohort’s data may not be generalized to the pediatric or adult CD population, as often our referrals consist of patients with difficult to treat, small, or otherwise unusual tumors.

In conclusion, SPH may be incidentally identified in up to 7% of patients with CD. Patients with CD and SPH may differ in terms of their response to endocrine tests, and this finding should be incorporated in their evaluation.

Abbreviations

 

  • ACTH

    adrenocorticotropin

  • CD

    Cushing disease

  • CRH

    corticotropin-releasing hormone

  • CS

    Cushing syndrome

  • HR

    hazard ratio

  • MRI

    magnetic resonance imaging

  • NICHD

    Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

  • OR

    odds ratio

  • PA

    pituitary adenoma

  • SPH

    subclinical pituitary hemorrhage

  • UFC

    urinary free cortisol

Financial Support

This work was supported by the intramural research program of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver NICHD, NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.

Disclosures

Dr Stratakis holds patents on the function of the PRKAR1APDE11A, and GPR101 genes and related issues; his laboratory has also received research funding on the GPR101 gene, and on abnormal growth hormone secretion and its treatment by Pfizer, Inc. He is currently employed by ELPEN, SA and has been consulting for Lundbeck Pharmaceuticals and Sync, SA. The other authors have nothing to disclose.

Data Availability

Some or all datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available but may be available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Endocrine Society 2022.
This work is written by (a) US Government employee(s) and is in the public domain in the US.
Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Endocrine Society 2022.

Successful Immunomodulatory Treatment of COVID-19 in a Patient With Severe ACTH-Dependent Cushing’s Syndrome

Introduction: Patients with Cushing’s syndrome (CS) represent a highly sensitive group during corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The effect of multiple comorbidities and immune system supression make the clinical picture complicated and treatment challenging.

Case report: A 70-year-old female was admitted to a covid hospital with a severe form of COVID-19 pneumonia that required oxygen supplementation. Prior to her admission to the hospital she was diagnosed with adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-dependent CS, and the treatment of hypercortisolism had not been started yet. Since the patient’s condition was quickly deteriorating, and with presumend immmune system supression due to CS, we decided on treatement with intraveonus immunoglobulins (IVIg) that enabled quick onset of immunomodulatory effect. All comorbidities were treated with standard of care. The patient’s condition quickly stabilized with no direct side effects of a given treatment.

Conclusion: Treatment of COVID-19 in patients with CS faces many challenges due to the complexity of comorbidity effects, immunosupression and potential interactions of available medications both for treatment of COVID-19 and CS. So far, there are no guidelines for treatment of COVID-19 in patients with active CS. It is our opinion that immunomodulating therapies like IVIg might be an effective and safe treatment modality in this particularly fragile group of patients.

Introduction

Dealing with corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19) focused medical attention on several sensitive population groups. While the knowledge is still improving, some of the recognized risk factors for severe form of the disease are male sex, older age, obesity, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and cardio-vascular disease (1). This constellation of morbidities is particularly intriguing from endocrine point of view, since they are all features of patients with Cushing’s syndrome (CS). Another relevant feature of CS is a propensity for infections due to profound immune suppression, with prevalence of 21-51%; even more so, infections are the second cause of death (31%) in CS after disease progression, and are the main cause of death (37%) in patients who died within 90 days of diagnosis (2).

Immune system alterations in CS lead to depression of both innate and adaptive immune responses, favoring not only commonly acquired but also opportunistic bacterial infections, fungal infections, and severe, disseminated viral infections (3). Susceptibility to infections directly positively correlates with cortisol level, and is more frequent in ectopic ACTH secretion (EAS). Hypercortisolism hampers the first-line response to external agents and consequent activation of the adaptive response (3). Consequently, there is a decrease in total number of T-cells and B-cells, as well as a reduction in T-helper cell activation, which might favor opportunistic and intracellular infections. On the other hand, an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokine secretion, including interleukine-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) leads to persistent, low-grade inflammation. It is important to note that immune system changes are confirmed both during the active phase and while in remission of CS (3).

In view of the aforementioned data, a few topics emerge regarding patients with CS and COVID-19. Initial clinical presentation may be altered – low-grade chronic inflammation and poor immune reaction might limit febrile response in the early phase of infection, aggravating timely diagnosis (4). Increased cytokine levels may put patients with CS at increased risk of severe course and progression to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). On the other hand, the rise in cytokine levels associated with exposure to external agents is significantly hampered, probably because of persistently elevated pro-inflammatory cytokine secretion (45). Patients with CS have a possibility for prolonged duration of viral infections and risk for superinfections leading to sepsis and increased mortality risk; this is especially relevant for hospitalized patients and mandates empirical prophylaxis with broad-spectrum antibiotics (6). Both COVID-19 and CS individually represent disease states of increased thromboembolic (TE) risk, requiring additional care (6).

Due to very limited data, it is still not possible to address these topics with certainty and make recommendations for optimal management of these patients. Current clinical practice guidance for management of CS during COVID-19 commissioned by the European Society of Endocrinology (ESE) emphasizes prompt and optimal control of hypercortisolism and adequate treatment of all comorbidities (7). Although individual circumstances must always be considered, we need more direct clinical experience, especially regarding the actual treatment of COVID-19 in this sensitive group. So far, there are only five published case studies of patients with CS and COVID-19, with eight patients in total (812). In this study, we present a patient with newly diagnosed ACTH-dependent CS who was diagnosed with COVID-19 before the initiation of specific medical treatment.

Case Report

A 70-year-old female was admitted to our Covid hospital due to bilateral interstitial pneumonia caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Six days before she was discharged from endocrinology department of another hospital where she was hospitalized due to newly diagnosed diabetes mellitus. Her personal history was unremarkable, and she was vaccinated with two doses of inactivated COVID-19 vaccine Sinopharm BBIBP. During this hospitalization Cushingoid features were noted (moon face, centripetal obesity, thin extremities with multiple hematomas, bilateral peripheral edema), as well as diabetes mellitus (HbA1c 8.7%), arterial hypertension (BP 180/100 mmHg), hypokalemia (2.0 mmol/L), mild leukocytosis (WBC 12.9x10e9/L) with neutrophilia, and mildly elevated CRP (12.3 mg/L). Hormonal functional testing confirmed ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome: morning ACTH 92.6 pg/mL (reference range 10-60 pg/mL), morning serum cortisol 1239 nmol/L (reference range 131-642 nmol/L), midnight serum cortisol 1241 nmol/L, lack of cortisol suppression in overnight dexamethasone suppression test (978 nmol/L). Pituitary MRI was unremarkable other than empty sella, and CT scan of thorax normal other than left adrenal hyperplasia. Diabetes mellitus was successfully controlled with metformin, hypertension with ACE-inhibitor, Ca-channel blocker and beta-blocker, and hypokalemia with potassium supplementation along with spironolactone. Steroidogenesis inhibitors were not available in this institution, but before referral to a tertiary care hospital she was tested for SARS-CoV-2, and the test came back positive (sample was obtained by nasopharyngeal swab). Since she was asymptomatic, with normal thoracic CT scan and stabile CRP level (9.1 mg/L), she was discharged with detailed recommendations for conduct in case of progression of COVID symptoms.

Next day she started feeling malaise with episodes of fever (up to 38.2°C). Symptomatic therapy was advised in an outpatient clinic (no antiviral therapy was recommended), but 5 days later respiratory symptoms ensued. During examination, the patient was weak, with dyspnea and tachypnea (RR 22/min), afebrile (36.9°C) and with oxygen saturation (SO2) of 85% measured by pulse oximeter. Chest X-ray confirmed bilateral interstitial pneumonia with parenchymal consolidation in the right lower lung lobe, so she was referred to the COVID hospital.

Laboratory analyses upon admission are presented in the Supplementary Table 1. In addition to her previous testing, elevated chromogranin A (CgA) level was verified (538.8 ng/mL, reference range 11-98.1). The patient was treated with supplemental oxygen with maximal flow of 13 l/min. For the reason of previously confirmed severe endogenous hypercortisolism, glucocorticoids were not administered. Due to limited therapeutic options and presumed further clinical deterioration, we decided to treat the patient with intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIg) 30 g iv for 5 days, starting from the 2nd day of hospitalization. We did not observe any side effects of a given treatment. In parallel, the patient received broad-spectrum antibiotics (ceftazidime and levofloxacin), proton pump inhibitor, LMWH in prophylactic dose, oral and parenteral potassium supplementation along with spironolactone. She continued with her previous antihypertensive therapy with good control of blood pressure. While the patient was on oxygen supplementation, glycaemia was controlled with short acting insulin before meals. Following given treatment, we observed clinical, biochemical (Supplementary Table 1.) and radiological improvement (Supplementary Figure 1). Oxygen supplementation was gradually discontinued. With regard to D-dimer levels and risk factors for TE events due to COVID-19 and CS, we performed color Doppler scan of lower extremities veins, and CT pulmonary angiography, but there were no signs of thrombosis. During hospital stay, there were no signs of secondary infection and cotrimoxazole was not added to the current treatment. The patient was discharged with advice to continue her prior medical therapy along with increased dose of spironolactone and initiation of rivaroxaban. She was referred to the tertiary institution for the initiation of steroidogenesis inhibitor and further diagnostics.

Discussion

Endogenous Cushing’s syndrome is a rare disease with an incidence of 0.7-2.4 million person-years in European population-based studies (13). Significant morbidity yields a standard mortality ratio of 3.7 (95%CI 2.3–5.3), with the highest mortality during the first year after initial presentation. COVID-19 pandemic imposes additional challenge to this fragile group of patients. Due to lack of solid experience, it is still difficult to define potential clinical course and outcome of patients with CS and COVID-19. In addition, currently there are no guidelines for management of SARS-CoV-2 infection in patients with active CS.

So far, only two small case series followed patients with Cushing’s disease (CD) in various disease stages (not all were active) during COVID-19 pandemic (912). Small number of SARS-CoV-2 positive cases (3/22 and 2/61) is clearly biased by shortness of analyzed period (one and a half, and three and a half months). Additionally, a small number of patients was actually tested by nasopharyngeal swab for SARS-CoV-2 even in the presence of indicative symptoms, albeit mild. Nevertheless, all these limitations included, it seems that the prevalence of COVID-19 might be greater in patients with CD than in general population (12). This is accordant with studies on patients on exogenous glucocorticoid (GC) treatment. Overall, there is a growing body of evidence that patients on chronic GC therapy are at higher risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection and a severe course of disese, regardless of age and comorbidities (14). In many studies patients on high-dose GC therapy were at particularly high risk for a severe course of disease, so it is reasonable to assume that there is a dose-dependent effect (14).

All patients except one with endogenous CS and COVID-19 presented in literature were hospitalized, with majority of them requiring oxygen supplementation, which classified them as serious cases of disease (812). Parameters of inflammation (namely CRP) were highly variable (from normal to elevated) and did not seem to reflect severity of COVID-19 consistently. Two patients had fatal outcome; one with postoperative hypocortisolism that required stress doses of hydrocortisone, and with terminal kidney failure as significant comorbidity; the other with suspected EAS who developed ARDS in contrast to normal CRP and absence of fever (912). Based on reported cortisol levels in these patients, it seems that the severity of COVID-19 pneumonia depended on severity of hypercortisolism (812). A patient with probable EAS even developed ARDS, which adds to ongoing controversy regarding the risk of ARDS due to SARS-CoV-2 in patients with CS (315). We ourselves have treated a severely obese female patient with active CD on pasireotide, who developed ARDS despite addition of high doses of methylprednisolone (unpublished data). Additional risk imposed by comorbidities cannot be underestimated (1516). This is particularly relevant for obesity, that not only hampers immune system (leading to increased levels of IL-1, IL-6, and TNF-α), but adipocytes represent a reservoir of SARS-CoV-2 thanks to ACE2 receptor, crucial for virus attachment (15).

Majority of depicted patients with active CS were already medically treated for hypercortisolism but with various compliance (sometimes very poor), and two young patients have just started steroidogenesis inhibitors (metyrapone/ketoconazole). Infection with SARS-CoV-2 was treated by national protocols that were mostly based on supportive care. These protocols changed over time, so a few patients received antiviral therapy (favipiravir), and one young patient with suspected EAS was treated with methylprednisolone along with high doses of ketoconazole (10). Treatment was complicated with adrenal insufficiency (AI) in three patients (81112).

We have presented a patient with CS and rapid development of serious case of COVID-19 pneumonia that required hospital admission and oxygen support. She was febrile and had positive laboratory parameters of inflammation. Her CS was active, with very high cortisol levels, no prior medical treatment and with clinical suspicion of EAS (ACTH-dependent disease of short duration, severe hypercortisolism, hypokalemia, very high CgA, no visible pituitary tumor). With this in mind, and with regard to rapid progression of COVID-19 pneumonia, it was our opinion that the patient required treatment with quick onset and presumable immune system modulation.

A logical approach to treatment of CS during COVID-19 pandemic includes meticulous therapy for comorbidities (namely antihypertensives, anti-diabetic drugs, low molecular weight heparin, etc.), and steroidogenesis inhibitors for treatment for hypercortisolemia (7). While some of these drugs demonstrate quick onset of action regarding normalization of cortisol level (and hence improve clinical comorbidities), rapid effects on immune system responses are not likely, which might be of great relevance in case of acute infection. Secondly, adrenolytic therapy increases a risk of AI, which can be even more perilous than CS in case of infection or other stress situations (8121516). A modified “block and replace” approach may be considered, where addition of hydrocortisone could diminish the risk of AI (7). Still, there are a few potential pitfalls with this regimen as well. Some people fail to respond to high doses of adrenal-blocking agents due to genetic differences in the steroidogenic enzymes, since therapeutic responses to metyrapone and ketoconazole in patients with CS are associated with the polymorphism in the CYP17A1 gene (17). Additionally, there are not enough data about possible interactions between adrenolytic drugs (majority of them being metabolized through the CYP450/CYP3A4 pathway) and medications used to treat COVID-19, most of which are only just emerging (18). Special concerns, amplified with similar potential effects of SARS-CoV-2 itself as well as specific therapies are liver dysfunction (metyrapone, ketoconazole), hypokalemia (metyrapone, ketoconazole), QT-interval prolongation (ketoconazole, osilodrostat), gastrointestinal distress (mitotane, osilodrostat, etomidate) (18). Metyrapone may cause accumulation of androgenic precursors secondary to the blockade of cortisol synthesis, that can virtually enhance expression of transmembrane protease serine 2 (TMPRSS2), found to be essential to activate the viral spikes, induce viral spread, and pathogenesis in the infected hosts (19). Another important issue concerns biochemical estimation of disease control (and hence risk for AI), since most commercially available assays can overestimate cortisol level in patients treated with metyrapone due to cross-reactivity with the precursor 11-deoxicortisol (715). Mass spectrometry is a method of choice to overcome this problem, but it is not available in many centers. Some centers advocate titration and/or temporary halting medical therapies in the treatment of patients with CS in the context of COVID-19 infection (20). Treatement was stopped in a few patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms who were then given high dose GC for a few days with no long-term complications, and with full recovery (20).

There are no data about the effect of anti-viral drugs in patients with CS and COVID-19. A special concern refers to adipose tissuse, as adipose tissue is difficult for antiviral drugs to reach. It cannot be excluded that the constant release of viral replicas from the adipose tissue reservoir may interfere with COVID-19 infection treatment, delaying its resolution and favoring a worse prognosis (15). If antiviral drugs are started, it is suggested that immunocompromised patients may require prolonged therapy (18). However, the timing is difficult in practice and candidates for antivirals are limited.

Since the clinical course of COVID-19 only initially depends on viral replication, immunomodulatory therapy emerged as a valuable treatment option to control the host immune response. This became apparent ever since RECOVERY trial proved efficacy of glucocortiods (21). But this therapeutic option is fairly inapplicable in patients with active CS, since glucocorticoid treatment in chronic hypercortisolism seems to enhance immune system alterations (22). In parallel with the development of new agents, it is prudent to study the efficacy of existing therapeutic options with acceptable safety profile (20). Beside glucocorticoids, inflammation blockers, intravenous immunoglobulin and convalescent plasma were used in various settings (23).

Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) is a blood product prepared from the serum pooled from thousands of healthy donors, containing a mixture of polyclonal IgG antibodies, mostly IgG1 and IgG2 subclasses (2425). Initial rationale for its use was immunodefficiency due to hypoglobulinemia. Since then it has been shown that IVIg exerts pleiotropic immunomodulating action involving both innate and adaptive immunity and it has been used in a variety of diseases (26). In previous studies on MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) using IVIg showed beneficial clinical effects (25). Although pathogenesis of COVID-19 has not be fully elucidated, there is a consensus that immune-mediated inflammation plays an important role in the progression of this disease, just as it did in prior coronavirus infections (27). In this context, the actual role of IVIg in COVID-19 patients might be not to boost the immune system, but through its immunomodulatory effect to suppress a hyperactive immune response that is seen in some patients (28). So far, a limited number of studies, case series and meta-analyses demonstrate a promising potential of IVIg in patients with COVID-19. The effect was demonstrated in terms of mortality, improvement of clinical symptoms, laboratory examinations, imaging and length of hospital stay, especially in patients with moderate/severe form of the disease, and with emphasis on early administration (within 3 days of admission) (24252731). A recent double blind, placebo-controlled, phase 3, randomized trial tested hyperimmune intravenous immunoglobulin (hIVIg) to SARS-CoV-2 derived from recovered donors with no demonstrated effect compared with standard of care, but therapy was administered in patients symptomatic up to 12 days (32). Additional clinical trials are underway, hopefully with more guidance for proper selection of patients that might benefit from this type of treatment.

Conclusion

To our knowledge, this is the first case of IVIg treatment in a COVID-19 patient with CS. It is our opinion that immune-modulating properties of IVIg might present an attractive treatment option, especially in those CS patients that show rapid clinical progression and positive laboratory parameters of inflammation. While we await for new therapeutic modalities for COVID-19 and while some of the modalities remain not widely available, IVIg is more accessible, safe method, which could be rescuing in carefully selected patients. Of note, we consider our patient’s vaccinal status as an unquestionable positive contributor to the favorable outcome

Data Availability Statement

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.

Ethics Statement

Ethical review and approval was not required for the study on human participants in accordance with the local legislation and institutional requirements. The patients/participants provided their written informed consent to participate in this study. Written informed consent was obtained from the individual(s) for the publication of any potentially identifiable images or data included in this article.

Author Contributions

BP, AS, JV, TG, MJ-L, JV, VS, ZG and TA-V analyzed and interpreted the patient data. BP, AP, DI, and DJ were major contributors in writing the manuscript. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

Supplementary Material

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fendo.2022.889928/full#supplementary-material

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Keywords: Cushing’s syndrome, COVID-19, IVIg, hypercortisolism, immunomodulation, immunosuppression

Citation: Popovic B, Radovanovic Spurnic A, Velickovic J, Plavsic A, Jecmenica-Lukic M, Glisic T, Ilic D, Jeremic D, Vratonjic J, Samardzic V, Gluvic Z and Adzic-Vukicevic T (2022) Successful Immunomodulatory Treatment of COVID-19 in a Patient With Severe ACTH-Dependent Cushing’s Syndrome: A Case Report and Review of Literature. Front. Endocrinol. 13:889928. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2022.889928

Received: 04 March 2022; Accepted: 17 May 2022;
Published: 22 June 2022.

Edited by:

Giuseppe Reimondo, University of Turin, Italy

Reviewed by:

Nora Maria Elvira Albiger, Veneto Institute of Oncology (IRCCS), Italy
Miguel Debono, Royal Hallamshire Hospital, United Kingdom

Copyright © 2022 Popovic, Radovanovic Spurnic, Velickovic, Plavsic, Jecmenica-Lukic, Glisic, Ilic, Jeremic, Vratonjic, Samardzic, Gluvic and Adzic-Vukicevic. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Bojana Popovic, popbojana@gmail.com

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

From https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fendo.2022.889928/full

Eyelid Edema Due to Cushing’s Syndrome

Abstract

Cushing’s syndrome (CS) shows diverse signs such as centripetal obesity, moon face, and buffalo hump, which can complicate the diagnosis. Facial features including eyelid edema, as an underrecognized sign, can be diagnostic clues for an excess of corticoids in a CS patient.

A 49-year-old woman presented with amenorrhea and weight gain that had continued for 2 years. Her medical history was dyslipidemia, hypertension, and osteoporosis. Physical examination revealed eyelid edemas (Figure 1A), moon face, buffalo hump, abdominal purple striae, and centripetal obesity (body mass index (BMI), 30.8 kg/m2). Basal plasma adrenocorticotropin was undetectable and serum cortisol level was high (16.9 μg/dl) without circadian rhythms. Free cortisol level in a 24-h urine collection was elevated (158.7 μg/day). Overnight administration of dexamethasone (1 mg) did not reduce serum cortisol level (17.4 μg/dl). Magnetic resonance imaging suggested bilateral adenomas. We made a diagnosis of adrenal Cushing’s syndrome (CS). Since 131l-adosterol scintigraphy showed specific uptake in the left adrenal gland, left adrenalectomy was laparoscopically performed. Histopathology of the tumor was compatible with adrenocortical adenoma. Three months after surgery, her BMI decreased to 25.0 kg/m2 and eyelid edemas were ameliorated (Figure 1B).

Details are in the caption following the image

(A) Bilateral eyelid edemas due to Cushing’s syndrome are shown. (B) These findings were improved three months after surgery for left adrenal adenomas

Eyelid edema, in addition to centripetal obesity, moon face, and buffalo hump, is also a significant sign of CS; however, it has scarcely been reported in countries other than Japan.12 Increased capillary permeability, insufficient venous return due to muscle atrophy, and sodium retention due to mineralocorticoid actions conceivably cause edema in CS.

AUTHORS’ CONTRIBUTIONS

KY wrote the first draft and managed all the submission processes. KO and KH contributed to the clinical management of the patient. FO organized the writing the manuscript.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

None.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

ETHICAL APPROVAL

Written informed consent was obtained from the patient to publish this case report.

  • 1Lacroix A, Feelders RA, Stratakis CA, Nieman LK. Cushing’s syndrome. Lancet. 2015; 386: 913- 927.
  • 2Komiya I, Takasu N, Ohara N, et al. Forty-one cases of Cushing’s syndrome: a comparison between Cushing’s syndrome (adrenal adenoma) and Cushing’s disease (adrenal hyperplasia). Nihon Naibunpi Gakkai Zasshi. 1992; 68: 607- 622.

https://doi.org/10.1002/ccr3.5940

From https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ccr3.5940

Long-term Outcomes and Complications from Endoscopic Versus Microscopic Transsphenoidal Surgery for Cushing’s Disease – a 15-year Single-center Study

Abstract

Background

Endoscopic endonasal surgery is the main transsphenoidal approach for pituitary surgery in many centers, however few studies compare the endoscopic and microscopic surgical approach with regard to long-term follow-up. This single-center study aimed to compare the two techniques over 15 years.

Methods

Medical records and magnetic resonance images from 40 patients with primary transsphenoidal surgery for Cushing’s disease at Sahlgrenska University Hospital between 2003 and 2018 were reviewed. Fourteen patients who underwent microscopic surgery and 26 patients who underwent endoscopic surgery were included in this study.

Results

In the microscopic group, 12 of 14 patients achieved endocrine remission, compared to 19 of 26 patients in the endoscopic group (n. s.). Three patients in each group developed a late recurrence. Complications were seen in 5 patients in the microscopic group and in 8 patients in the endoscopic group (n. s.). No serious complications, such as carotid artery damage, cerebrovascular fluid leakage, epistaxis, or meningitis, occurred in any group. The postoperative hospital stay was shorter in the endoscopic than the microscopic group.

Conclusion

Endoscopic endonasal surgery for Cushing’s disease showed no difference in remission, recurrence, and complication rates compared to the microscopic approach. The endoscopic group had a shorter postoperative hospital stay than the microscopic group, which in part may be due to the minimal invasiveness of the endoscopic approach.

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Conflicts of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest.

Author statements

Conceptualization: D. Farahmand, E. Backlund, O. Ragnarsson and P. Trimpou

Data curation: Dan Farahmand, Erica Backlund, J. Carlqvist, T. Skoglund, T. Hallén, O. Ragnarsson, P. Trimpou.

Formal Analysis: D. Farahmand, E. Backlund

Funding acquisition: D. Farahmand

Investigation: D. Farahmand, E. Backlund, O. Ragnarsson and P. Trimpou

Methodology: D. Farahmand, E. Backlund, O. Ragnarsson and P. Trimpou

Project administration: D. Farahmand, E. Backlund, O. Ragnarsson and P. Trimpou

Supervision: D. Farahmand

Writing – original draft: Penelope Trimpou

Writing – review & editing: E. Backlund, O. Ragnarsson, T. Skoglund, T. Hallén, G. Gudnadottir, J. Carlqvist and D. Farahmand.

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From https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1878875022009640

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