Dynamic And Invasive Testing in Cushing’s Disease



Dynamic testing represents the mainstay in the differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome. However, in case of undetectable or detectable lesion < 6 mm on MRI, bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling (BIPSS) is suggested by current guidelines. Aim of this study was to analyze the performance of CRH, desmopressin and high-dose dexamethasone suppression test (HDDST) in the differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome as well as the impact of invasive and noninvasive tests on surgical outcome in patients affected by Cushing’s disease (CD).


Retrospective analysis on 148 patients with CD and 26 patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome.


Among CD patients, negative MRI/lesion < 6 mm was detected in 97 patients (Group A); 29 had a 6–10 mm lesion (Group B) and 22 a macroadenoma (Group C). A positive response to CRH test, HDSST and desmopressin test was recorded in 89.4%, 91·4% and 70.1% of cases, respectively. Concordant positive response to both CRH/HDDST and CRH/desmopressin tests showed a positive predictive value of 100% for the diagnosis of CD. Among Group A patients with concordant CRH test and HDDST, no difference in surgical outcome was found between patients who performed BIPSS and those who did not (66.6% vs 70.4%, p = 0.78).


CRH, desmopressin test and HDDST have high accuracy in the differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent CS. In patients with microadenoma < 6 mm or non-visible lesion, a concordant positive response to noninvasive tests seems sufficient to diagnose CD, irrespective of MRI finding. In these patients, BIPSS should be reserved to discordant tests.


Cushing’s syndrome (CS) is a rare and potentially fatal condition due to chronic exposure to cortisol. After excluding exogenous glucococorticoid assumption from any route, the diagnosis is based on clinical suspicion and further confirmed with appropriate testing as suggested by Endocrine Society Guidelines [urinary free cortisol (UFC), late night serum/salivary cortisol and 1 mg dexamethasone suppression test] [1]. Once the diagnosis of endogenous hypercortisolism is confirmed, the measurement of morning ACTH levels allows to discriminate ACTH-dependent from ACTH-independent CS that originates from primary adrenal disorders. Among ACTH-dependent CS, the most common form is caused by an ACTH-secreting pituitary tumor, a condition named Cushing’s disease (CD), accounting for about 80% of all cases, whereas the rest is due to an ectopic source (EAS); even though ACTH levels are usually higher in EAS than in CD, there is a significant overlap between these two conditions, thus further diagnostic procedures are needed [1]. Desmopressin (DDAVP) stimulatory test is helpful in suggesting risk of recurrence in the post-neurosurgical follow-up, but it seems to have a limited diagnostic utility in the differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent CS due to the expression of vasopressin receptors in both CD and EAS [2]. Conversely, high-dose dexamethasone suppression test (HDDST) and corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) test have been widely used for this purpose and represent the mainstay in the differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent CS forms [3,4,5,6]. Despite their satisfactory accuracy, there is no consensus on how to interpret their results [7]. Previous studies found that the presence of concordant clear-cut response to both HDDST and CRH test is able to exclude the diagnosis of EAS, irrespective of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) finding [89]. Even though MRI with intravenous gadolinium administration is certainly useful for individuation of the pituitary tumor, it results in little help in about 30% of cases due to tiny dimensions, localization and characteristics of the ACTH-secreting pituitary adenomas [10]. Conversely, radiological studies may sometimes disclose abnormalities with no functional significance, the so-called “pituitary incidentalomas”, that have been found in about 10% of healthy individuals [11], as in up to 38% of patients with EAS [12]. However, it is noteworthy that the finding of a pituitary incidentalomas larger than 6 mm in patients with EAS is usually very rare [13]. The presence of a microadenoma is therefore not enough for hypercortisolism to be labeled as pituitary-dependent and the role of hormonal tests is crucial for a correct diagnosis. When discordant results to dynamic tests and/or when pituitary MRI shows a lesion < 6 mm, bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling (BIPSS) is still recommended as the gold-standard procedure to achieve correct differential diagnosis due to its high sensitivity and specificity [7]. However, even BIPSS is not always fully reliable; false negative results are indeed possible in case of anatomical variations of the venous drainage from the cavernous sinuses to the jugular veins or when BIPSS is performed in a low-normal cortisolemic phase, as might happen in cyclic CS or during treatment with cortisol-lowering medications [14]. Furthermore, BIPSS requires hospitalization, is time- and cost-consuming and in few instances might lead to severe complications [1516]. Given the fact that BIPSS is not 100% accurate, has poor reliability to suggest intrapituitary localization/lateralization and has some drawbacks [17], we collected clinical, biochemical and neuroradiological data of a large series of CD patients as well as biochemical and neuroradiological data of a group of EAS patients with the following aims: (i) to describe the responsiveness to dynamic testing (CRH test, DDAVP test and HDDST) and its performance in the differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome in possible different scenarios given by MRI finding; (ii) to assess whether the decision of BIPSS execution can affect surgical outcome of patients affected by Cushing’s disease.

Patients and methods

We performed a retrospective analysis on 148 patients (F/M 113/35, mean age 42.4 ± 14.2 years) affected by CD followed at 2 tertiary care centers in Italy between 2000 and 2017 [Endocrinology Unit, Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico of Milan (62 patients); Endocrinology Unit, Department of Medicine-DIMED, University of Padova (86 patients)].

The diagnosis of hypercortisolism was performed on the basis of typical clinical features in the presence of at least two of the following abnormal tests: high 24-h UFC levels, loss of circadian rhythm in plasma/salivary cortisol and lack of cortisol suppression after 1 mg of dexamethasone overnight [1]. The diagnosis of ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism was confirmed in case of detectable baseline ACTH plasma levels (> 20 ng/L) [18]. Pituitary MRI (magnet strength ranging from 1.5 to 3.0 TESLA over the study period) with gadolinium was performed in all patients and reviewed by experienced neuroradiologists. Differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism was established through: (i) CRH test (positive response: ACTH and/or cortisol plasma levels increase by more than 50% and/or 20%, respectively) [1218,19,20]; (ii) high-dose dexamethasone suppression test (HDDST) (positive response: serum cortisol levels reduction to a value of < 50% of the basal level) [19]; (iii) DDAVP test (positive response: increase of both ACTH and cortisol greater than 30% and 20%, respectively) [2122].

For CRH and DDAVP tests, all patients were evaluated after an overnight fast; blood samples for ACTH and cortisol measurements were collected − 15, 0, 15, 30, 45, 60, 90 and 120 min after intravenous bolus injection of human CRH 100 µg or DDAVP 10 µg, respectively.

For HDDST, dexamethasone 8 mg was administered orally at 23.00 h and serum cortisol levels were measured between 8.00 and 9.00 a.m. on the next morning.

The decision whether to perform bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling (BIPSS) was guided by clinical judgement considering neuroradiological and biochemical findings. After catheter placement, ACTH was measured simultaneously in a blood sample obtained from each petrosal sinus and from a peripheral vein before and 1, 3, 5, and 10 min after the injection of 1 µg/Kg of CRH.

An inferior petrosal sinus to periphery ratio (IPS:P) ≥ 2 at baseline or ≥ 3 after CRH administration was considered as positive response [23]. All patients included in this study underwent transsphenoidal surgery (TSS) performed by neurosurgeons with recognized expertise in the management of pituitary diseases.

The pituitary origin of ACTH secretion was then confirmed by immediate (serum cortisol < 138 nmol/L within 7 days following TSS) and/or sustained biochemical remission [hypoadrenalism (morning serum cortisol < 138 nmol/L or lack of cortisol response to Synacthen stimulation test considering a cut-off of 500 nmol/L) for at least 6 months] after TSS and/or histological examination (defined as positive immunostaining for ACTH on the adenomatous tissue).

Finally, data describing biochemical responses to CRH test, DDAVP test and HDDST and pituitary MRI in a group of 26 patients (14 of which were presented in a previous publication) [9] with histologically confirmed ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS) were also collected.

Statistical analysis

Data are shown using mean ± standard deviation for normally distributed continuous variables or median and interquartile range (IQR) for non-Gaussian data and proportion for categorical parameters. Categorical data were analyzed using the χ2 test or the Fisher exact test if the expected value was < 5. Continuous parameters with normal distribution were compared using the t test and non-Gaussian data using the non-parametric test of Mann Whitney. The relation between two or more variable was assessed through logistic regression in case of binary dependent variable and linear regression in case of continuous dependent variable. Sensitivity (SE), specificity (SP), positive predictive value (PPV) and negative predictive value (NPV) were calculated with 95% confidence intervals (CI) using the exact binomial method. All statistical analyses were performed using SPSS, version 25 (IBM, Cary, NC, USA).


Neuroradiological findings

Patients with CD were divided into three groups on the basis of MRI results; group A included 97 patients (65.5%) with negative imaging (n = 40, 27% of total) or with a pituitary lesion < 6 mm (n = 57 patients, 38.5%); group B those with visible pituitary adenoma sized between 6 and 10 mm (29 subjects, 19.6%), while group C accounted for patients with macroadenoma (22 patients, 14.9%) (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1


Different groups of patients according to MRI findings

Among patients with EAS, seven had a microadenoma < 6 mm, while pituitary imaging was negative in 19.

Biochemical characteristics at baseline

Demographic, basal and dynamic biochemical characteristics and remission rates of three groups of patients affected by CD are summarised in Table 1.

Table 1 Demographic, basal and dynamic biochemical characteristics and remission rates of three groups of patients

Basal levels of cortisol, ACTH and UFC were evaluated for each group. Because of different assay methods performed during time, we preferred to use relative UFC (UFC/upper normal limit ratio). Patients of Group C showed higher basal ACTH levels compared to patients with negative MRI imaging or microadenomas (Group A + B) [90(54.5–113.5) vs 44.6(33.7–65.6), p < 0.001), without difference between Group A and Group B. No difference in basal cortisol and relative UFC levels was found between groups.

Late night salivary cortisol levels were evaluated in 73 patients (47 of Group A, 13 of Group B and C) without any difference between groups.

Suppression test

Overall, a positive response to HDDST was observed in 91.4% of cases of CD. The rate of responders to HDDST was similar between negative MRI/microadenomas (Group A + B) and macroadenomas (respectively 92.6% vs 83.3%, p = 0.18) and no differences were found in cortisol levels and percentage of cortisol reduction after HDDST among the three different groups of patients (Table 1).

Six out of 26 patients affected by EAS were responsive to HDDST (23.1%). HDDST had a 91% SE, 77% SP, 95% PPV and 62% NPV to diagnose Cushing’s disease (Table 2).

Table 2 Diagnostic performance of positive response to CRH test, HDDST and their combination for the correct identification of Cushing’s disease

Dynamic tests

Overall, CRH test was positive in 89.4% of CD subjects. The response rate was significantly higher in patients with negative MRI/microadenomas (Group A + B) with respect to those with macroadenomas (91.7% vs 75%, p = 0.04), without difference between Group A and Group B. Likewise, negative MRI/microadenomas showed a higher response in terms of ACTH [140.5 (71.9–284.9) vs 82 (26.4–190.9) p = 0.02] and cortisol percentage increase [61.8 (30.7–92.8) vs 36.8 (15.6–63.1), p = 0.03].

As far as DDAVP is concerned, a positive response was recorded in 70.1% of the whole cohort. In this case, unlike CRH test, the response rate was significantly higher in patients with macroadenomas than in those with negative MRI/microadenomas (90% vs 66.3%, p = 0.03). However, no differences between negative MRI/microadenomas and macroadenomas in terms of percentage increase of ACTH and cortisol were found.

Concordance of positive responses between CRH test and HDDST was observed in 81.5% of all patients (82.4% in Group A, 88.4% in Group B and 66.6% of Group C) without any difference between groups. In four cases, a negative response to both tests was recorded; all these patients had a macroadenoma with a minimum diameter of 20 mm.

Concordant positive responses to CRH and DDAVP tests were observed in 62.6% of patients (62.9% in Group A, 56.5% in Group B and 68.4% in Group C, p = NS between groups). In Group A, the concordance rate between CRH and DDAVP was significantly lower than that observed between CRH test and HDDST (62.9% vs 81.5%, p = 0.035). Additionally, six patients (four of Group A, one of Group B and one of Group C) showed a negative response to both tests.

With regards to EAS, one patient had a positive response to CRH test and six patients to HDDST, respectively. Data regarding DDAVP test were available in 22 out of 26 patients: in this subgroup, a false positive response was observed in 11 patients. However, no patient showed a concordant positive response to CRH test and HDDST or to CRH test and DDAVP test. Conversely, two patients responded to both HDDST and DDAVP test. Although it is beyond the aim of this paper, our data confirm previous studies reporting a higher sensitivity of CRH in respect to HDDST and DDAVP test in this setting [24,25,26].

CRH test showed a SE of 89%, SP of 96%, PPV of 99% and NPV of 62% for the diagnosis of CD (Table 2). The combination of the concordant positive responses to CRH test and HDDST performed better than single tests, reaching a 100% SP and PPV irrespective of pituitary MRI.

Considering only the patients with negative imaging or a pituitary lesion < 6 mm, the SE, SP, PPV and NPV of combined positive responses were 82%, 100%, 100% and 62%, respectively (Table 2). On the other hand, combined negative responses in this subgroup of patients showed a SP and PPV of 100% for the diagnosis of EAS.

Similarly, a positive response to both CRH test and DDAVP test reached a SP and PPV of 100% for the diagnosis of CD (Table 3).

Table 3 Diagnostic performance of positive response to DDAVP test or to the combination DDAVP/CRH and DDAVP/HDDST for the correct identification of Cushing’s disease

Bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling in CD

BIPSS was performed in 29/97 patients of Group A and 1/29 patient of Group B. In particular, 20 of 29 patients of Group A had a negative MRI. In four out of these patients, CRH and HDDST were discordant (two negative results for each test) and BIPSS confirmed a pituitary origin of CS. In the other 16 cases, a positive response to both tests was observed: in 15 cases BIPSS confirmed the diagnosis of CD, while a central/periphery ratio of 2.91 after CRH administration was recorded in one case. The latter patient underwent TSS and CD was then confirmed by immediate and long-term remission of disease. Notably, no patient of Group A presented a negative response to both CRH test and HDDST, while four patients presented a combined negative response to CRH and DDAVP tests.

In the remaining nine patients of Group A, MRI showed a visible microadenoma < 6 mm and BIPSS confirmed the diagnosis of CD both in concordant (n = 6) and discordant (n = 3) patients.

BIPSS was not consistent with a pituitary origin in a patient of Group B with discordant tests. However, as her pretest probability of having CD was high (she was a young female without any suggestive features of ectopic CS and no lesion at thoracoabdominal computed tomography), also in this case the patient underwent TSS and both short and long-term remission confirmed the diagnosis of CD.

No complications were observed in 29/30 patients after BIPSS. One patient died about 24 h after the procedure because of cardiac rupture. Since autopsy revealed a left ventricular free-wall rupture after asymptomatic acute myocardial infarction and cortisol related myopathy, this event was considered as unlikely related to BIPSS.

Remission rates after surgery and role of BIPSS in CD patients with inconclusive neuroradiological imaging

Overall, surgical remission was achieved in 107/148 (72.3%) patients. No difference between groups was found, also considering all patients with negative MRI or microadenomas (Group A + B) with respect to those with macroadenomas (Group C) (73.8% vs 63.6%, p = 0.31).

Finally, when considering patients of Group A with concordant positive responses to HDDST and CRH test (n = 75), no difference in surgical outcome was found between patients who performed BIPSS and those who did not [respectively, 14/21 (66.6%) vs 38/54 (70.4%), p = 0.78] (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2


Remission rate in patients of Group A with concordant positive tests


Differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent CS is challenging and to date a single best approach in the diagnostic work-up of these patients does not exist.

Whereas the usefulness of stimulatory and suppression tests is widely accepted, their role to the light of positive MRI (pituitary adenoma < or > 6 mm) or negative findings is still a matter of debate. In the latter case, although BIPSS still represents the gold-standard procedure for differential diagnosis regardless the results of dynamic tests [718], different clinical approaches and opinions are reported in the literature.

In a recent opinion statement by members of the Italian Society of Endocrinology, Italian Society of Neurosurgery and Italian Society of Neuroradiology that summarizes different strategies adopted in the prescription of BIPSS [27], the authors report two studies in which BIPSS did not show any influence on neurosurgical remission rates. In the first one, Bochicchio and coll. retrospectively analyzed data from 668 patients affected by CD and described that in 98 subjects who underwent BIPSS, surgical failure was similar to patients who did not [28]; however, in this cohort CRH and TRH tests but not HDDST, were performed and selection criteria for BIPSS were not clearly reported. In the second one, Jehle and coll. performed a retrospective analysis of 193 patients with ACTH-dependent CS [29]; also in this case, BIPSS did not affect remission rate after TSS as far as recurrence and long-term remission rates. The procedure was reserved to patients with equivocal scan and/or biochemical tests; however, biochemical evaluation consisted of ACTH and UFC levels, while CRH test was not performed and data about HDDST were lacking in all but six patients.

In a subsequent review about the role of BIPSS in CS, Zampetti et al. [30] suggested that, on the basis of authors’ experience, BIPSS should not be performed in patients with positive response to CRH test (defined as increase > 50% in ACTH and > 30% in cortisol), particularly if a consistent suppression to HDDST is present, independently of MRI findings. This opinion was finally remarked by Losa et al. [14] which pointed out CRH test as the main factor in providing indication to BIPSS.

In this area of controversy, we performed a retrospective analysis on 148 patients with CD and 26 patients with EAS aiming to evaluate the role non-invasive tests in the diagnostic work-up, with secondary focus on the need of BIPSS in CD patients with inconclusive neuroradiological examination. In all 148 patients of our cohort, the diagnosis of CD was confirmed by biochemical remission after TSS, histology and/or > 6 months post-surgical hypoadrenalism.

In agreement with previous data, our results confirm that CRH test and HDDST have high accuracy in differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent CS [8927]. As a whole, a positive response was observed in 89.4% and 91.4% of patients with CD, and in 3.8% and 23.1% of patients with EAS, respectively. More importantly, the combination of concordant positive responses to CRH test and HDDST reaches 100% specificity and PPV, thus allowing the diagnosis of CD irrespective of MRI findings. Otherwise, a single-test approach is not able to reach a specificity of 100%. The same performance is maintained in the subgroup of patients with negative MRI or with a microadenoma < 6 mm. Furthermore, in this subgroup, a negative response to both CRH test and HDDST is sufficient to make the diagnosis of EAS.

Interestingly, in CD patients, the response rate to CRH test, as far as ACTH and cortisol percentage increase, were significantly higher in patients with microadenomas or negative imaging in respect to those with macroadenomas. A similar observation was recently reported in a group of 149 CD patients where macroadenomas tended to show a lower increase of ACTH after CRH compared to microadenomas [9]. As a negative correlation between baseline secretion and ACTH and cortisol responses to CRH in CD patients has been described [31], suggesting in this context a different degree of negative feedback impairment at the pituitary level, the finding of higher baseline ACTH levels in our patients may represent the most likely explanation for this observation.

Accordingly, the highest rate of false negative responses to dynamic tests were observed in patients with macroadenomas, in which a false negative result to both CRH and HDDST was recorded in four cases; nevertheless, in this condition BIPSS is already overlooked due to the low pretest probability of the co-existence of a pituitary macroadenoma and an ectopic CS.

The role of DDAVP test in differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent CS is still controversial and a high frequency of false positive results in patients with EAS has been reported [2]. However, in a recent work including 167 patients with CD and 27 patients with EAS, the positive response to both CRH and DDAVP test showed a positive predictive value of 100% for CD in patients with negative MRI and negative computed tomography scan [32]. In our study, similarly to CRH test and HDDST, also the combination of positive responses to both CRH and DDAVP tests reaches a specificity and PPV of 100% for the diagnosis of CD. However, DDAVP test presents low sensitivity and specificity, thus resulting in a high prevalence of false negative and false positive results as well as a concordance rate significantly lower than that observed for CRH test and HDDST in patients with negative MRI or with a microadenoma < 6 mm. In addition, in four of these patients we recorded a concordant negative response to CRH and DDAVP tests that might have resulted in misdiagnosis. Therefore, our data indicate that DDAVP test may represent a valid alternative, in particular when discordant results arise from other dynamic tests, but CRH test, HDDST and their combination perform better and reduce the need to perform BIPSS.

On the other hand, it is well recognized that DDAVP may have an important role in the post-surgical follow-up of CD patients, as the persistence or reappearance of a positive response may precede the clinical recurrence of disease [212233,34,35,36,37,38].

In our series, BIPSS confirmed the diagnosis of CD in 28 out of 30 patients who underwent this procedure. Two negative cases included one patient with a pituitary adenoma sized between 6 and 10 mm but discordant CRH test and HDDST and another one with negative imaging and concordant tests. Notably, in the latter case, a borderline central/periphery ratio of 2.91 was recorded. Nevertheless, diagnosis of CD was subsequently proven by remission after neurosurgery, suggesting that BIPSS returned a false negative result in both patients. The proportion of false negative we observed is in line with previous literature data reporting a prevalence of 3–19%, possibly related to anatomical or biochemical variations of disease [141727303940]. Furthermore, BIPSS is burdened by possible complications. In particular, minor adverse events (i.e., groin hematoma, tinnitus, otalgia) have been reported in about 4% of patients, while severe complications (i.e., brainstem infarction, subarachnoid haemorrhage, pulmonary and deep venous thrombosis) are expected in less than 1% of cases [2730]. As reported above, in our series one patient died 24 h after BIPSS due to cardiac rupture, while no complications in the other subjects were recorded. Although our fatal event was unlikely related to the procedure and complications are rare, all these observations point out the need for an accurate selection of patients referred to BIPSS.

Following the results of diagnostic performance analysis, in those patients with concordant positive responses to CRH test and HDDST but inconclusive neuroradiological findings (i.e., negative imaging or pituitary adenoma < 6 mm), the execution of BIPSS did not improve surgical outcome. Then, our data do not support the routine use of BIPSS in this subgroup of CD patients, in whom BIPSS could have been avoided in 22 out of 29 subjects. In this setting, contrarily to what the current guidelines propose [7131819], CRH test and HDDST seems to be sufficient to confirm the diagnosis of CD and to provide indication to pituitary surgery. Similarly, a negative response to both tests pointed toward EAS diagnosis; in this circumstance BIPSS can be avoided too. Indeed, the present study does not propose to remove BIPSS from the diagnostic work-up of ACTH-dependent CS diagnosis, but to restrict its use when really necessary.

Our study has some limitations: first, its retrospective nature, leading in particular to an inhomogeneous selection of patients referred to BIPSS. Second, our data do not allow to draw conclusions about patients with intermediate pituitary lesion between 6 and 10 mm. Although our approach was to avoid BIPSS even in case of discordant results, except in the presence of clinical features suggestive for ectopic CS (rapid onset, hypokalemia, advanced age), these cases can still represent matter of debate.

On the other side, the strength is represented by the comprehensive and punctual biochemical and diagnostic characterization of patients which in our view makes our results very reliable.

In conclusion, our study confirms that CRH test, DDAVP test and HDDST have high accuracy in the differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent CS. In particular, the combination of CRH test and HDDST allows to achieve the best performance in terms of sensitivity and specificity. In patients with negative MRI or with a microadenoma < 6 mm, the presence of concordant positive response to CRH test and HDDST or to CRH test and DDAVP test seems to be sufficient to establish the diagnosis of CD. In this subgroup of patients, BIPSS should be therefore reserved for those cases with discordant tests.


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This work was supported by AIRC (Associazione Italiana Ricerca Cancro) grant to GM (IG 2017-20594), Italian Ministry of Health grant to GM (PE-2016-02361797) and by Ricerca Corrente Funds from the Italian Ministry of Health.

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Author notes

  1. E. Ferrante and M. Barbot have equally contributed to this work.


  1. Endocrinology Unit, Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico di Milano, Via Francesco Sforza, 35, 20122, Milan, ItalyE. Ferrante, A. L. Serban, G. Carosi, E. Sala, R. Indirli, M. Arosio & G. Mantovani
  2. Endocrinology Unit, Department of Medicine DIMED, University of Padova, Padua, ItalyM. Barbot, F. Ceccato, L. Lizzul, A. Daniele, M. Cuman, M. Boscaro & C. Scaroni
  3. Department of Experimental Medicine, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, ItalyA. L. Serban
  4. Department of Clinical Sciences and Community Health, University of Milan, Milan, ItalyG. Carosi, R. Indirli, M. Arosio & G. Mantovani
  5. Neurosurgery Department, Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico di Milano, Milan, ItalyM. Locatelli
  6. Department of Pathophysiology and Transplantation, University of Milan, Milan, ItalyM. Locatelli
  7. Department of Neurosciences, University of Padua, Padua, ItalyR. Manara

Corresponding author

Correspondence to G. Mantovani.

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The study was approved by the Ethics Committee of Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico of Milan (Comitato Etico Milano Area 2, number 651_2019).

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Ferrante, E., Barbot, M., Serban, A.L. et al. Indication to dynamic and invasive testing in Cushing’s disease according to different neuroradiological findings. J Endocrinol Invest (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40618-021-01695-1

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  • Cushing’s disease
  • ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome
  • Differential diagnosis
  • Bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling

Novel Predictive Model for Adrenal Insufficiency in Dermatological Patients with Topical Corticosteroids Use: A Cross-Sectional Study

Purpose: This study aimed to identify predictive factors and to develop a predictive model for adrenal insufficiency (AI) related to topical corticosteroids use.
Methods: The research was conducted using a cross-sectional design. Adult patients with dermatological conditions who had been prescribed topical steroids for at least 12 months by the dermatology outpatient departments of the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University from June through October 2020 were included. Data on potential predictors, including baseline characteristics and laboratory investigations, were collected. The diagnoses of AI were based on serum 8AM cortisol and low-dose ACTH stimulation tests. Multivariable logistic regression was used for the derivation of the diagnostic score.
Results: Of the 42 patients, 17 (40.5%) had AI. The statistically significant predictive factors for AI were greater body surface area of corticosteroids use, age < 60 years, and basal serum cortisol < 7 μg/dL. In the final predictive model, duration of treatment was added as a factor based on its clinical significance for AI. The four predictive factors with their assigned scores were: body surface area involvement 10– 30% (20), > 30% (25); age < 60 years old (15); basal serum cortisol of < 7 μg/dL (30); and duration of treatment in years. Risk of AI was categorized into three groups, low, intermediate and high risk, with total scores of < 25, 25– 49 and ≥ 50, respectively. The predictive performance for the model was 0.92 based on area under the curve.
Conclusion: The predictive model for AI in patients using topical corticosteroids provides guidance on the risk of AI to determine which patients should have dynamic ACTH stimulation tests (high risk) and which need only close follow-up (intermediate and low risk). Future validation of the model is warranted.

Keywords: adrenal insufficiency, topical corticosteroids, predictive model, skin diseases


Topical corticosteroids are frequently used for inflammatory skin diseases owing to their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects. Common indications for use include diseases such as psoriasis, eczema, atopic dermatitis, and vitiligo.1 In clinical practice, a variety of delivery vehicles and potencies of topical corticosteroids are used.1 Prolonged and/or inappropriate use of topical corticosteroids can lead to adverse side effects.2 These adverse side effects can be categorized as cutaneous and systemic side effects. The most common cutaneous side effect is skin atrophy. Systemic side effects include hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis suppression, glaucoma, hyperglycemia and hypertension.3

One of the most worrisome adverse side effects from the use of topical corticosteroids is adrenal insufficiency (AI) resulting from HPA axis suppression. Topically applied corticosteroids can be absorbed systemically through the skin and can suppress the HPA axis.4–8 This adverse outcome, the inability to increase cortisol production after stress, can lead to adrenal crisis, which is potentially life-threatening. Tests that are normally used to diagnose or exclude AI include serum morning cortisol and the dynamic ACTH stimulation test.9

Secondary AI from percutaneous absorption of topical corticosteroids is less common than with parenteral or oral administration. The cumulative doses and the durations of oral corticosteroid therapy associated with HPA axis suppression have been well documented.10 Data regarding the dose and duration of oral corticosteroids and HPA axis suppression have similarly been well established. A study by Curtis et al reported that the use of oral prednisolone >7.5 mg/day for an extended period (>3 weeks) was linked to this adverse event, and that the incidence increased with duration.10 However, corresponding data for topical corticosteroids has been limited. The degree of risk of HPA axis suppression from topical corticosteroids use is associated with the level of percutaneous absorption which, in turn, depends on numerous factors including the age of the patient (younger patients are more susceptible), body surface area treated, quantity of topical corticosteroids used, potency of the drug, duration of therapy, body region of application, the associated compounds used, eg, urea or salicylic acid, the characteristics of the diseased skin, the degree of impairment of skin integrity, and the coexistence of hepatic and/or renal disease.11–13 One study reported that HPA axis suppression occurs when high potency steroids are administered at a cumulative dose per week of >50 g.2

Presently, there is a lack of data on predictive factors for AI and no predicative model of the relationship between secondary AI resulting from HPA axis suppression and topical corticosteroids use. A simple predictive model which could help preclude and predict the risk of AI which incorporates both demographic and biochemical data could potentially reduce the number of dynamic ACTH stimulation tests performed. This study aimed to identify potential predictive factors and to design an easy-to-use model for predicting the risk of AI following topical corticosteroids use in dermatological patients.

Materials and Methods

This cross-sectional study was conducted with 42 patients who were seen at the dermatology outpatient departments at the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University Hospital over a 5-month period (June – October 2020). The study protocol was approved by the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Ethical Committee (Ethical number: MED-2563-07037). Recruited participants were adult dermatological patients (≥18 years) who had used topical corticosteroids for at least 12 months. Patients with pituitary or adrenal diseases, pregnant women and patients who had been treated with either systemic corticosteroids or other local corticosteroids were excluded. Those who meet all the inclusion criteria gave their informed consent prior to the study. This study was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki.

Adrenal Function Evaluation

Adrenal function was evaluated by serum morning (8 AM) cortisol and the low-dose ACTH stimulation test. Patients were instructed to suspend use of topical corticosteroids for at least 24 hours before serum morning cortisol measurement and ACTH stimulation tests. In those with serum morning cortisol between 3 and 17.9 µg/dL, ACTH stimulation tests were performed on the same day between 9–11AM to either exclude or diagnose AI. Serum cortisol concentrations were measured at 8 AM 0 (basal cortisol) as well as 20 and 40 minutes after 5 µg ACTH was administered intravenously.

Data Collection

Epidemiological data collected included gender, age, blood pressure, underlying dermatologic diseases, other underlying diseases, body surface area involvement, sensitive area involvement, topical corticosteroid potency, amount and duration of topical corticosteroids use, symptoms of AI and the presence of Cushingoid features. Biochemical data included serum cortisol at 8 AM, 0 (basal cortisol) and at 20 and 40 minutes after ACTH intravenous injection, serum creatinine, electrolytes and albumin. Serum cortisol levels were measured by electrochemiluminescence assay (ECLIA) (Elecsys® Cortisol II assay, Roche Diagnostics GmbH, Mannheim, Germany).


An 8AM cortisol level of ❤ µg/dL or a peak serum cortisol level of <18 µg/dL at 20 or 40 minutes after an ACTH stimulation test was defined as having AI.14 Sensitive area involvement included the axilla, groin, face and genitalia. Topical corticosteroids are classified by potency based on a skin vasoconstriction assay, and range from ultra-high potency (class I) to low potency (class VII).15 Since some patients had concurrently used more than one class of corticosteroids in one treatment period, the new variable potency·dose·time (summary of corticosteroids potency (I–VII)16 multiplied by total doses (mg) of corticosteroids use and multiplied by duration (months) of corticosteroids use) was created. Symptoms of AI included lethargy, nausea and vomiting, orthostatic hypotension and significant weight loss. Significant weight loss was defined as a loss of 5% of body weight in one month or a loss of 10% over a period of six months.17 Having Cushingoid features was defined as at least one of the excess glucocorticoid features, eg, easy bruising, facial plethora, proximal myopathy, striae, dorsocervical fat pad, facial fullness, obesity, supraclavicular fullness, hirsutism, decreased libido and menstrual abnormalities.

Statistical Analysis

All statistical analyses were performed using Stata 16 (StataCorp, College Station, Texas, USA). Categorical variables are reported as frequency and percentage, while continuous variables are reported as mean ± standard deviation or median and interquartile range (IQR), according to their distribution. For univariable comparison, Fisher’s exact probability test was used for categorical variables, and the independent t-test or the Mann–Whitney U-test was used for continuous variables. p-values less than 0.05 were considered statistically significant.

Multivariable logistic regression was used in the derivation of the prediction model for AI. Predictors with significant p-values in the univariable analysis were included in the multivariable model. We also included age and treatment duration in the model due to the clinical significance of those factors.4,18 The clinical collinearity among the predictors was also evaluated before the selection of the predictors. We generated a weighted score for each predictor by dividing the logit coefficient of the predictor by the lowest coefficient in the model. The discriminative ability of the final multivariable model was assessed using the area under the receiver operating characteristics (ROC) curve. The calibration of the scores was evaluated using the Hosmer-Lemeshow goodness-of-fit test, where a p-value >0.01 was considered a good fit. For clinical applicability, the appropriate cut-off points for the scores were identified based on sensitivity and specificity. We identified one cut-off point with high sensitivity for ruling out AI and another cut-off point with high specificity for ruling in AI. The positive predictive value for each score category with its corresponding confidence interval were presented. A sample size of at least 25 patients with at least 5 patients with AI was estimated to give 80% power at the 5% significance level.4 There was no missing data in this study.


Baseline characteristics and biochemical investigations are shown in Table 1. Forty-two patients with dermatological diseases were included in this study. Of these, 17 patients (40.5%) had AI of whom 5 (29.4%) were female. The mean age of the group was 56.5 ±15.4 years, the mean duration of treatment was 10.1 ± 6 years, and the majority of patients had psoriasis (n = 14, 82.4%). There was no significant difference in sex, age, duration of treatment, potency dose-time, comorbidities, or underlying skin disease between the AI and non-AI groups. The average body surface area of corticosteroids use was significantly higher in patients with AI than in the non-AI group (27.5 ±18.7 m2 and 10.7 ±11.7 m2, p < 0.001, respectively). Basal serum cortisol levels were significantly lower in the AI group (6.52 ± 4.04 µg/dL) than in the non-AI group (10.48 ± 3.45 µg/dL, p 0.003). Although lower serum morning cortisol levels were observed in the AI group, the difference was not statistically significant (5.24 ± 4.65 µg/dL vs 13.39 ± 15.68 µg/dL, p = 0.069). Three patients were identified as having Cushingoid features. All patients with Cushingoid features had AI.

Table 1 Comparison of Clinical Characteristics Between Patients with a History of Topical Corticosteroids Use for at Least 12 Months Who Were Diagnosed with Adrenal Insufficiency and Those without Adrenal Insufficiency (n = 42)


Based on the multivariate logistic regression analysis (shown in Table 2), the significant predictive factors for AI in patients who used topical corticosteroids for more than 12 months were body surface area of corticosteroids use of 10–30% and >30% (POR 18.9, p =0.042, and POR 59.2, p = 0.035, respectively), age less than 60 years (POR 13.8, p = 0.04), and basal serum cortisol of <7 µg/dL (POR 131.5, p = 0.003). Only serum basal cortisol was included in the final multivariable model as there was clinical collinearity among serum morning cortisol and basal cortisol as well as 20- and 40-minute cortisol measurements.

Table 2 Multivariable Model for Prediction of Adrenal Insufficiency in Patients with a History of Topical Corticosteroids Use for at Least 12 Months (n = 38)


Predictive risk score was created to determine the probability of patients having AI using the aforementioned three significant predictive factors from the multivariable analysis (Table 2). As previous studies have demonstrated that duration of treatment is a strong predictive factor for AI in corticosteroid users,4,18 this factor was also incorporated in the model. The transformed score for body surface area, age and basal serum cortisol had a range of 0 to 30. For treatment duration, the transformed score was based on cumulative years of treatment. The total score was categorized into three groups: low, intermediate, and high risk (Table 3).

Table 3 Accuracy of the Score to Rule in and Rule Out Adrenal Insufficiency in Patients with a History of Topical Corticosteroids Use for at Least 12 Months (n = 38)


The cut-off point of ≥50 suggests high risk for developing AI with a sensitivity of 46.2% and a specificity of 100%, a score of <25 suggests a low risk with a sensitivity of 100% and a specificity of 52%, and a score between 25 and 49 indicates an intermediate risk of having AI. The ROC curve for the model assessing predictive performance which included all significant factors had an AuROC of 0.92 (Figure 1). The Hosmer-Lemeshow goodness-of-fit test revealed non-statistically significant results (p = 0.599), indicating that our newly derived scoring system fits the data well.

Figure 1 Model discrimination via receiver operating characteristic curve in patients with a history of topical corticosteroids use for at least 12 months (n = 42).



The present study proposes an easy-to-use predictive model for AI following topical corticosteroids use in dermatological patients based on demographic and biochemical factors. The accuracy of the model shows an excellent diagnostic accuracy of 92% based on AuROC. Currently, the diagnosis of AI in dermatological patients with topical corticosteroids use involves multiple steps including screening for serum morning cortisol followed by dynamic ACTH stimulation testing. The proposed simple predictive model, which requires only three demographic data items (age, body surface area of corticosteroids use, duration of use) and one biochemical test (serum basal cortisol), could potentially reduce the number of dynamic ACTH stimulation tests performed, resulting in cost- and time-saving for both patients and health-care facilities.

Based on the proposed cut-off points, we suggest screening of individuals at high risk for having AI, including serum morning cortisol and the ACTH stimulation tests to confirm a diagnosis of AI. If there is evidence of AI, the patient should begin to receive treatment for AI to reduce future complications. For those in the low-risk group, only clinical follow-up should be carried out. In the intermediate-risk group, we recommend regular and close biochemical follow-up including serum morning cortisol and clinical follow-up for signs and symptoms of AI. Signs and symptoms that should raise a high index of suspicion for AI include significant weight loss, nausea and/or vomiting, orthostatic hypotension and lethargy. However, this proposed predictive model was studied in adults and cannot simply be generalized and extrapolated to children or infants.

In our study, 40.5% of the patients were determined to have AI. A previous meta-analysis by Broersen et al reported the percentage of patients with AI secondary to all potencies of topical corticosteroids based on a review of 15 studies was 4.7%, 95% CI (1.1–18.5%).19 The higher prevalence of AI in our study could be a result of differences in patients’ baseline characteristics, eg, duration of treatment, corticosteroids potency and body surface area involvement.

In the predictive model, we incorporated both clinical and biochemical factors which are easy to obtain in actual clinical practice. Some of those predictive factors have been previously reported to be linked to AI. Body surface area of corticosteroids use larger than 10% found to be significantly related to AI, especially in patients with a lesion area of over 30%. This finding is consistent with a study by Kerner et al which suggests the extent of surface area to which the corticosteroids are applied may influence absorption of the drug.20 Regarding the age of the patients, our study found that individuals over 60 years old tended to be at high risk of AI following topical corticosteroids therapy. The underlying explanation is that the stratum corneum acts as a rate-limiting barrier to percutaneous absorption as the stratum corneum in younger individuals is thinner than in older people. Diminished effectiveness of topical corticosteroid treatment in older people was demonstrated in a study by Malzfeldt et al.21 Even though serum basal cortisol is not recommended as a standard test to diagnose AI, a prior study reported that it can be considered as an alternative choice to diagnose AI when serum morning cortisol results are not available. In fact, it has been reported that there is no difference in diagnostic accuracy between serum morning cortisol and basal cortisol22 which supports our finding that serum basal cortisol <7 µg/dL is one of the significant factors related to AI.

The final model found no statistically significant relationship between the incidence of AI and the duration of corticosteroids treatment. However, we decided to include this factor in the final model since previous publications have reported that the duration of treatment is a relevant risk factor for developing AI following continuous topical corticosteroids use. The duration of AI events has been reported to vary between 2 weeks to 18 months.4,18 Additionally, a case report of AI demonstrated that 5 years of topical corticosteroids use can cause AI.6 Together, this suggests that patients with a longer duration of topical corticosteroids use are at increased risk of AI, especially those who also have other risk factors. Although both potency and dosage of topical corticosteroids have been reported to be significantly linked to HPA axis suppression, the present study found only a non-significance link. This could be the result of the small sample size as well as of other factors, eg, body surface area involvement and serum cortisol levels, which could have masked the association between potency and dosage of topical corticosteroids with HPA suppression.

To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to use these novel predictive factors to develop a predictive model for AI in patients using topical corticosteroids. This model has multiple potential implications. First, the model uses clinical and biochemical factors which are obtainable in many institutes. Second, the model’s risk score provides good diagnostic accuracy in terms of both sensitivity and specificity. Finally, each of the predictive factors in the model has an underlying pathophysiological explanation and is not due simply to chance.

There are some limitations in this study. First, the sample size is relatively small, although it does offer sufficient statistical power for each of the predictive factors. Second, further external validation is needed to validate the predictive performance of the model. Third, the cut-off level of serum cortisol after ACTH stimulation test was based on the older generation of ECLIA assay. There was a study proposed that the cut-off for serum cortisol in the newer generation of cortisol assay should be lower (~14–15 µg/dL) than the previous one (18 µg/dL).23 However, this proposed cut-off has not yet been established in the current guideline for AI. In the future, if the newer cut-off for serum cortisol will have been employed in the standard guideline, our predictive model may lead to overdiagnosis of AI.


The proposed predictive model uses both demographic and biochemical factors to determine the risk of AI in dermatological patients following topical corticosteroids use with a high level of diagnostic accuracy. This model has advantages in terms of a reduction in the number of dynamic ACTH stimulation tests needed, thus saving time and resources. Additionally, it can provide guidance to clinical practitioners regarding which patients should be closely followed up for development of AI. Future external validation of this predictive model is warranted.


The authors are grateful to Lamar G. Robert, PhD and Chongchit S. Robert, PhD for editing the manuscript.


The authors report no conflict of interest in this work.


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A Case of Cushing’s Disease Presenting with Isolated Suicidal Attempt

Cushing’s disease is an abnormal secretion of ACTH from the pituitary that causes an increase in cortisol production from the adrenal glands. Resultant manifestations from this excess in cortisol include multiple metabolic as well as psychiatric disturbances which can lead to significant morbidity and mortality. In this report, 23-year-old woman presented to mental health facility with history of severe depression and suicidal ideations. During evaluation, she found to have Cushing’s disease, which is unusual presentation. She had significant improvement in her symptoms with reduction of antidepressant medications after achieving eucortisolism. Cushing syndrome can present with wide range of neuropsychiatric manifestations including major depression. Although presentation with suicidal depression is unusual. Early diagnosis and prompt management of hypercortisolsim may aid in preventing or lessening of psychiatric symptoms The psychiatric and neurocognitive disorders improve after disease remission (the normalization of cortisol secretion), but some studies showed that these disorders can partially improve, persist, or exacerbate, even long-term after the resolution of hypercortisolism. The variable response of neuropsychiatric disorders after Cushing syndrome remission necessitate long term follow up.

Endogenous Cushing syndrome is a complex disorder caused by chronic exposure to excess circulating glucocorticoids. It has a wide range of clinical signs and symptoms as a result of the multisystem effects caused by excess cortisol.1

The hypercortisolism results in several complications that include glucose intolerance, diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, thromboembolism, osteoporosis, impaired immunity with increased susceptibility to infection as well as neuropsychiatric disorders.2,3

Cushing syndrome presents with a wide variety of neuro-psychiatric manifestations like anxiety, major depression, mania, impairments of memory, sleep disturbance, and rarely, suicide attempt as seen in this case.2,4

The mechanism of neuropsychiatric symptoms in Cushing’s syndrome is not fully understood, but multiple proposed theories have been reported, one of which is the direct brain damage secondary to excess of glucocorticoids.5

A 23-year-old female presented to Al-Amal complex of mental health in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with history of suicidal tendencies and 1 episode of suicidal attempt which was aborted because of religious reasons. She reported history of low mood, having disturbed sleep, loss of interest, and persistent feeling of sadness for 4 months. She also reported history of weight gain, facial swelling, hirsutism, and irregular menstrual cycle with amenorrhea for 3 months. She was prescribed fluoxetine 40 mg and quetiapine 100 mg. She was referred to endocrinology clinic at King Fahad Medical City, Riyadh for evaluation and management of possible Cushing syndrome as the cause of her abnormal mental health.

She was seen in the endocrinology clinic where she reported symptoms as mentioned above in addition to headache, acne, and proximal muscle weakness.

On examination her vital signs were normal. She had depressed affect, rounded face with acne and hirsutism, striae in the upper limb, and abdomen with proximal muscle weakness (4/5).

Initial investigations showed that 24 hour urinary free cortisol was more than 633 µg which is more than 3 times upper limit of normal (this result was confirmed on second sample with level more than 633 µg/24 hour), cortisol level of 469 nmol/L after low dose 1 mg-dexamethasone suppression test and ACTH level of 9.8 pmol/L. Levels of other anterior pituitary hormones tested were within normal range. She also had prediabetes with HbA1c of 6.1 and dyslipidemia. Serum electrolytes, renal function and thyroid function tests were normal.

MRI pituitary showed left anterior microadenoma with a size of 6 mm × 5 mm.

MRI pituitary (Figure 1).


Figure 1. (A-1) Coronal T2, (B-1) post contrast coronal T1 demonstrate small iso intense T1, heterogeneous mixed high, and low T2 signal intensity lesion in the left side of anterior pituitary gland which showed micro adenoma with a size of 6 mm × 5 mm. (A-2) Post-operative coronal T2 and (B-2) post-operative coronal T1. Demonstrates interval resection of the pituitary micro adenoma with no recurrence or residual lesion and minimal post-operative changes. There is no abnormal signal intensity or abnormal enhancing lesion seen.

No further hormonal work up or inferior petrosal sinus sampling were done as the tumor size is 6 mm and ACTH level consistent with Cushing’s disease (pituitary source). She was referred to neurosurgery and underwent trans-sphenoidal resection of the tumor. Histopathology was consistent with pituitary adenoma and positive for ACTH. Her repeated cortisol level after tumor resection was less than 27 and ACTH 2.2 with indicated excellent response to surgery.

She was started on hydrocortisone until recovery of her hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis documented by normal morning cortisol 3 months after surgery (Table 1).


Table 1. Labs.

Table 1. Labs.

During follow up with psychiatry her depressive symptoms improved but not resolved and she was able to stop fluoxetine 5 months post-surgery. Currently she is maintained on quetiapine 100 mg with significant improvement in her psychiatric symptoms.

Currently she is in remission from Cushing’s disease based on the normal level of repeated 24 hour urinary free cortisol and with an over-all improvement in her metabolic profile.

Cushing syndrome is a state of chronic hypercortisolism due to either endogenous or exogenous sources. Glucocorticoid overproduction by adrenal gland can be adrenocorticotropic (ACTH) hormone dependent which represent most of the cases and ACTH independent.6 To the best of our knowledge this is the first case documented in Saudi Arabia.

There are multiple theories behind the neuropsychiatric manifestations in Cushing syndrome. These include increased stress response leading to behavioral changes, prolonged cortisol exposure leading to decreased brain volume especially in the hippocampus, reduced dendritic mass, decreased glial development, trans-cellular shift of water and synaptic loss, and excess glucocorticoid levels inhibiting neurogenesis and promoting neuronal tendency to toxic insult.3,7

In this report, the patient presented with severe depression with suicidal attempt. She had significant improvement in her symptoms with reduction of antidepressant medications but her depression persisted despite remission of Cushing disease. A similar case has been reported by Mokta et al,1 about a young male who presented with suicidal depression as initial manifestation of Cushing disease. As opposed to the present case he had complete remission of depression within 1 month of resolution of hypercortisolism.

In general, psychiatric and neurocognitive disorders secondary to Cushing syndrome improves after normalization of cortisol secretion, but some studies showed that these disorders can partially improve, persist, or exacerbate, even long-term after the resolution of hypercortisolism. This may be due to persistence hypercortisolism creating toxic brain effects that occur during active disease.2,8 Similar patients need to be followed up for mental health long after Cushing syndrome has been resolved.

Depression is a primary psychiatric illness, that is, usually not examined for secondary causes. Symptoms of depression and Cushing syndrome overlap, so diagnosis and treatment of Cushing disease can be delayed. Early diagnosis and prompt management of hypercortisolsim may aid in preventing or lessening psychiatric symptoms. The variable neuropsychiatric disorders associated with Cushing syndrome post-remission necessitates long term follow up.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests:
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Informed Consent
Written informed consent was obtained from the patient for the publication of this case and accompanying images.

Sultan Dheafallah Al-Harbi  https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9877-9371

1. Mokta, J, Sharma, R, Mokta, K, Ranjan, A, Panda, P, Joshi, I. Cushing’s disease presenting as suicidal depression. J Assoc Physicians India. 2016;64:8283.
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2. Pivonello, R, Simeoli, C, De Martino, MC, et alNeuropsychiatric disorders in cushing’s syndrome. Front Neurosci. 2015;9:16.
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3. Pereira, AM, Tiemensma, J, Romijn, JA. Neuropsychiatric disorders in Cushing’s syndrome. Neuroendocrinology. 2010;92:6570.
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4. Tang, A, O’Sullivan, AJ, Diamond, T, Gerard, A, Campbell, P. Psychiatric symptoms as a clinical presentation of Cushing’s syndrome. Ann Gen Psychiatry. 2013;12:1.
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5. Sonino, N, Fava, GA, Raffi, AR, Boscaro, M, Fallo, F. Clinical correlates of major depression in Cushing’s disease. Psychopathology. 1998;31:302306.
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6. Wu, Y, Chen, J, Ma, Y, Chen, Z. Case report of Cushing’s syndrome with an acute psychotic presentation. Shanghai Arch Psychiatry. 2016;28:169172.
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7. Rasmussen, SA, Rosebush, PI, Smyth, HS, Mazurek, MF. Cushing disease presenting as primary psychiatric illness: a case report and literature review. J Psychiatr Pract. 2015;21:449457.
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8. Sonino, N, Fava, GA. Psychiatric disorders associated with Cushing’s syndrome. Epidemiology, pathophysiology and treatment. CNS Drugs. 2001;15:361373.
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ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome due to bilateral adrenocortical adenoma




The chronic excess of glucocorticoids results in Cushing’s syndrome. Cushing’s syndrome presents with a variety of signs and symptoms including: central obesity, proximal muscle weakness, fatigue striae, poor wound healing, amenorrhea, and others.

ACTH independent Cushing’s syndrome is usually due to unilateral adenoma. A rare cause of it is bilateral adrenal adenomas.

In this paper we report a case of a 43-year-old woman with Cushing’s syndrome due to bilateral adrenal adenoma.

Read the case report at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1930043321005690

Crinetics Pharmaceuticals’ Oral ACTH Antagonist, CRN04894, Demonstrates Pharmacologic Proof-of-Concept with Dose-Dependent Cortisol Suppression in Single Ascending Dose Portion of Phase 1 Study

SAN DIEGO, CA, USA I August 10, 2021 I Crinetics Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Nasdaq: CRNX), a clinical stage pharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development, and commercialization of novel therapeutics for rare endocrine diseases and endocrine-related tumors, today announced positive preliminary findings from the single ascending dose (SAD) portion of a first-in-human Phase 1 clinical study with CRN04894 demonstrating pharmacologic proof-of-concept for this first-in-class, investigational, oral, nonpeptide adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) antagonist that is being developed for the treatment of conditions of ACTH excess, including Cushing’s disease and congenital adrenal hyperplasia.

“ACTH is the central hormone of the endocrine stress response. Even though we’ve known about its clinical significance for more than 100 years, there has never been an ACTH antagonist available to intervene in diseases of excess stress hormones. This is an important milestone for the field of endocrinology and for our company,” said Scott Struthers, Ph.D., founder and chief executive officer of Crinetics. “I am extremely proud of our team that conceived, discovered and developed CRN04894 this far. This is the second molecule to emerge from our in-house discovery efforts and demonstrate pharmacologic proof of concept. I am very excited to see what it can do in upcoming clinical studies.”

The 39 healthy volunteers who enrolled in the SAD cohorts were administered oral doses of CRN04894 (10 mg to 80 mg, or placebo) two hours prior to a challenge with synthetic ACTH. Analyses of basal cortisol levels (before ACTH challenge) showed that CRN04894 produced a rapid and dose-dependent reduction of cortisol by 25-56%. After challenge with a supra-pathophysiologic dose of ACTH (250 mcg), CRN04894 suppressed cortisol (as measured by AUC) up to 41%. After challenge with a disease-relevant dose of ACTH (1 mcg), CRN04894 showed a clinically meaningful reduction in cortisol AUC of 48%. These reductions in cortisol suggest that CRN04894 is bound with high affinity to its target receptor on the adrenal gland and blocking the activity of ACTH. CRN04894 was well tolerated in the healthy volunteers who enrolled in these SAD cohorts and all adverse events were considered mild.

“We are very encouraged by these single ascending dose data which clearly demonstrate proof of ACTH antagonism with CRN04894 exposure in healthy volunteers,” stated Alan Krasner, M.D., chief medical officer of Crinetics. “We look forward to completing this study and assessing results from the multiple ascending dose cohorts. As a clinical endocrinologist, I recognize the pioneering nature of this work and eagerly look forward to further understanding the potential of CRN04894 for the treatment of diseases of ACTH excess.”

Data Review Conference Call
Crinetics will hold a conference call and live audio webcast today, August 10, 2021 at 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time to discuss the results of the CRN04894 SAD cohorts. To participate, please dial 800-772-3714 (domestic) or 212-271-4615 (international) and refer to conference ID 21996541. To access the webcast, please visit the Events page on the Crinetics website. The archived webcast will be available for 90 days.

About the CRN04894-01 Phase 1 Study
Crinetics is enrolling healthy volunteers in this double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled Phase 1 study of CRN04894. Participants will be divided into multiple cohorts in the single ascending dose (SAD) and multiple ascending dose (MAD) phases of the study. In the SAD phase, safety and pharmacokinetics are assessed. In addition, pharmacodynamic responses are evaluated before and after challenges with injected synthetic ACTH to assess pharmacologic effects resulting from exposure to CRN04894. In the MAD phase, participants will be administered placebo or ascending doses of study drug daily for 10 days. Assessments of safety, pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics will also be performed after repeat dosing.

About CRN04894
Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is synthesized and secreted by the pituitary gland and binds to melanocortin type 2 receptor (MC2R), which is selectively expressed in the adrenal gland. This interaction of ACTH with MCR2 stimulates the adrenal production of cortisol, a stress hormone that is involved in the regulation of many systems. Cortisol is involved for example in the regulation of blood sugar levels, metabolism, inflammation, blood pressure, and memory formulation, and excess adrenal androgen production can result in hirsutism, menstrual dysfunction, infertility in men and women, acne, cardiometabolic comorbidities and insulin resistance. Diseases associated with excess of ACTH, therefore, can have significant impact on physical and mental health. Crinetics’ ACTH antagonist, CRN04894, has exhibited strong binding affinity for MC2R in preclinical models and demonstrated suppression of adrenally derived glucocorticoids and androgens that are under the control of ACTH, while maintaining mineralocorticoid production.

About Cushing’s Disease and Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia
Cushing’s disease is a rare disease with a prevalence of approximately 10,000 patients in the United States. It is more common in women, between 30 and 50 years of age. Cushing’s disease often takes many years to diagnose and may well be under-diagnosed in the general population as many of its symptoms such as lethargy, depression, obesity, hypertension, hirsutism, and menstrual irregularity can be incorrectly attributed to other more common disorders.

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) encompasses a set of disorders that are caused by genetic mutations that result in impaired cortisol synthesis with a prevalence of approximately 27,000 patients in the United States. This lack of cortisol leads to a loss of feedback mechanisms and results in persistently high levels of ACTH, which in turn causes overstimulation of the adrenal cortex. The resulting adrenal hyperplasia and over-secretion of other steroids (particularly androgens) and steroid precursors can lead to a variety of effects from improper gonadal development to life-threatening adrenal crisis.

About Crinetics Pharmaceuticals
Crinetics Pharmaceuticals is a clinical stage pharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development, and commercialization of novel therapeutics for rare endocrine diseases and endocrine-related tumors. The company’s lead product candidate, paltusotine, is an investigational, oral, selective nonpeptide somatostatin receptor type 2 agonist for the treatment of acromegaly, an orphan disease affecting more than 26,000 people in the United States. A Phase 3 program to evaluate safety and efficacy of paltusotine for the treatment of acromegaly is underway. Crinetics also plans to advance paltusotine into a Phase 2 trial for the treatment of carcinoid syndrome associated with neuroendocrine tumors. The company is also developing CRN04777, an investigational, oral, nonpeptide somatostatin receptor type 5 (SST5) agonist for congenital hyperinsulinism, as well as CRN04894, an investigational, oral, nonpeptide ACTH antagonist for the treatment of Cushing’s disease, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, and other diseases of excess ACTH. All of the company’s drug candidates are new chemical entities resulting from in-house drug discovery efforts and are wholly owned by the company.

SOURCE: Crinetics Pharmaceuticals

From https://pipelinereview.com/index.php/2021081178950/Small-Molecules/Crinetics-Pharmaceuticals-Oral-ACTH-Antagonist-CRN04894-Demonstrates-Pharmacologic-Proof-of-Concept-with-Dose-Dependent-Cortisol-Suppression-in-Single-Ascending-Dose-Port.html

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