New discoveries offer possible Cushing’s disease cure

LOS ANGELES — More than a century has passed since the neurosurgeon and pathologist Harvey Cushing first discovered the disease that would eventually bear his name, but only recently have several key discoveries offered patients with the condition real hope for a cure, according to a speaker here.

There are several challenges clinicians confront in the diagnosis and treatment of Cushing’s disease, Shlomo Melmed, MB, ChB, FRCP, MACP, dean, executive vice president and professor of medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said during a plenary presentation. Patients who present with Cushing’s disease typically have depression, impaired mental function and hypertension and are at high risk for stroke, myocardial infarction, thrombosis, dyslipidemia and other metabolic disorders, Melmed said. Available therapies, which range from surgery and radiation to the somatostatin analogue pasireotide (Signifor LAR, Novartis), are often followed by disease recurrence. Cushing’s disease is fatal without treatment; the median survival if uncontrolled is about 4.5 years, Melmed said.

“This truly is a metabolic, malignant disorder,” Melmed said. “The life expectancy today in patients who are not controlled is apparently no different from 1930.”

The outlook for Cushing’s disease is now beginning to change, Melmed said. New targets are emerging for treatment, and newly discovered molecules show promise in reducing the secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and pituitary tumor size.

“Now, we are seeing the glimmers of opportunity and optimism, that we can identify specific tumor drivers — SST5, [epidermal growth factor] receptor, cyclin inhibitors — and we can start thinking about personalized, precision treatment for these patients with a higher degree of efficacy and optimism than we could have even a year or 2 ago,” Melmed said. “This will be an opportunity for us to broaden the horizons of our investigations into this debilitating disorder.”

Challenges in diagnosis, treatment

Overall, about 10% of the U.S. population harbors a pituitary adenoma, the most common type of pituitary disorder, although the average size is only about 6 mm and 40% of them are not visible, Melmed said. In patients with Cushing’s disease, surgery is effective in only about 60% to 70% of patients for initial remission, and overall, there is about a 60% chance of recurrence depending on the surgery center, Melmed said. Radiation typically leads to hypopituitarism, whereas surgical or biochemical adrenalectomy is associated with adverse effects and morbidity. Additionally, the clinical features of hypercortisolemia overlap with many common illnesses, such as obesity, hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

“There are thousands of those patients for every patient with Cushing’s disease who we will encounter,” Melmed said.

The challenge for the treating clinician, Melmed said, is to normalize cortisol and ACTH with minimal morbidity, to resect the tumor mass or control tumor growth, preserve pituitary function, improve quality of life and achieve long-term control without recurrence.

“This is a difficult challenge to meet for all of us,” Melmed said.

Available options

Pituitary surgery is typically the first-line option offered to patients with Cushing’s disease, Melmed said, and there are several advantages, including rapid initial remission, a one-time cost and potentially curing the disease. However, there are several disadvantages with surgery; patients undergoing surgery are at risk for postoperative venous thromboembolism, persistent hypersecretion of ACTH, adenoma persistence or recurrence, and surgical complications.

Second-line options are repeat surgery, radiation, adrenalectomy or medical therapy, each with its own sets of pros and cons, Melmed said.

“The reality of Cushing’s disease — these patients undergo first surgery and then recur, second surgery and then recur, then maybe radiation and then recur, and then they develop a chronic illness, and this chronic illness is what leads to their demise,” Melmed said. “Medical therapy is appropriate at every step of the spectrum.”

Zebrafish clues

Searching for new options, Melmed and colleagues introduced a pituitary tumor transforming gene discovered in his lab into zebrafish, which caused the fish to develop the hallmark features of Cushing’s disease: high cortisol levels, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In the fish models, researchers observed that cyclin E activity, which drives the production of ACTH, was high.

Melmed and colleagues then screened zebrafish larvae in a search for cyclin E inhibitors to derive a therapeutic molecule and discovered R-roscovitine, shown to repress the expression of proopiomelanocortin (POMC), the pituitary precursor of ACTH.

In fish, mouse and in vitro human cell models, treatment with R-roscovitine was associated with suppressed corticotroph tumor signaling and blocked ACTH production, Melmed said.

“Furthermore, we asked whether or not roscovitine would actually block transcription of the POMC gene,” Melmed said. “It does. We had this molecule (that) suppressed cyclin E and also blocks transcription of POMC leading to blocked production of ACTH.”

In a small, open-label, proof-of-principal study, four patients with Cushing’s disease who received roscovitine for 4 weeks developed normalized urinary free cortisol, Melmed said.

Currently, the FDA Office of Orphan Products Development is funding a multicenter, phase 2, open-label clinical trial that will evaluate the safety and efficacy of two of three potential doses of oral roscovitine (seliciclib) in patients with newly diagnosed, persistent or recurrent Cushing disease. Up to 29 participants will be treated with up to 800 mg per day of oral seliciclib for 4 days each week for 4 weeks and enrolled in sequential cohorts based on efficacy outcomes.

“Given the rarity of the disorder, it will probably take us 2 to 3 years to recruit patients to give us a robust answer,” Melmed said. “This zebrafish model was published in 2011, and we are now in 2019. It has taken us 8 years from publication of the data to, today, going into humans with Cushing’s. Hopefully, this will light the pathway for a phase 2 trial.”

 Offering optimism’

Practitioners face a unique paradigm when treating patients with Cushing’s disease, Melmed said. Available first- and second-line therapy options often are not a cure for many patients, who develop multimorbidity and report a low quality of life.

“Then, we are kept in this difficult cycle of what to do next and, eventually, running out of options,” Melmed said. “Now, we can look at novel, targeted molecules and add those to our armamentarium and at least offer our patients the opportunity to participate in trials, or at least offer the optimism that, over the coming years, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel for their disorder.”

Melmed compared the work to Lucas Cranach’s Fons Juventutis (The Fountain of Youth). The painting, completed in 1446, shows sick people brought by horse-drawn ambulance to a pool of water, only to emerge happy and healthy.

“He was imagining this ‘elixir of youth’ (that) we could offer patients who are very ill and, in fact, that is what we as endocrinologists do,” Melmed said. “We offer our patients these elixirs. These Cushing’s patients are extremely ill. We are trying with all of our molecular work and our understanding of pathogenesis and signaling to create this pool of water for them, where they can emerge with at least an improved quality of life and, hopefully, a normalized mortality. That is our challenge.” – by Regina Schaffer

Reference:

Melmed S. From zebrafish to humans: translating discoveries for the treatment of Cushing’s disease. Presented at: AACE Annual Scientific and Clinical Congress; April 24-28, 2019; Los Angeles.

Disclosure: Melmed reports no relevant financial disclosures.

 

From https://www.healio.com/endocrinology/neuroendocrinology/news/online/%7B585002ad-640f-49e5-8d62-d1853154d7e2%7D/new-discoveries-offer-possible-cushings-disease-cure

Metastatic Pituitary Carcinoma Successfully Treated with Radiation, Chemo.

A man with Cushing’s disease — caused by an adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH)-secreting pituitary adenoma — who later developed metastases in the central nervous system without Cushing’s recurrence, was successfully treated over eight years with radiation and chemotherapy, according to a case report.

The report, “Long-term survival following transformation of an adrenocorticotropic hormone secreting pituitary macroadenoma to a silent corticotroph pituitary carcinoma: Case report,” was published in the journal World Neurosurgery.

Pituitary carcinomas make up only 0.1-0.2% of all pituitary tumors and are characterized by a primary pituitary tumor that metastasizes into cranial, spinal, or systemic locations. Fewer than 200 cases have been reported in the literature.

Most of these carcinomas secrete hormones, with ACTH being the most common. Though the majority of ACTH-secreting carcinomas present with Cushing’s disease, about one-third do not show symptoms of the condition and have normal serum cortisol and ACTH levels. These are called silent corticotroph adenomas and are considered more aggressive.

A research team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham presented the case of a 51-year-old Caucasian man with ACTH-dependent Cushing’s disease. He had undergone an incomplete transsphenoidal (through the nose) resection of an ACTH-secreting pituitary macroadenoma – larger than 10 mm in size – and radiation therapy the year before.

At referral in August 1997, the patient had persistent high cortisol levels and partial hypopituitarism, or pituitary insufficiency. He exhibited Cushing’s symptoms, including facial reddening, moon facies, weight gain above the collarbone, “buffalo hump,” and abdominal stretch marks.

About two years later, the man was weaned off ketoconazole — a medication used to lower cortisol levels — and his cortisol levels had been effectively reduced. He also had no physical manifestations of Cushing’s apart from facial reddening.

In May 2010, the patient reported two episodes of partial seizures, describing two spells of right arm tingling, followed by impaired peripheral vision. Imaging showed a 2.1-by-1-cm mass with an associated cyst within the brain’s right posterior temporal lobe, as well as a 1.8-by-1.2-cm mass at the cervicomedullary junction, which is the region where the brainstem continues as the spinal cord. His right temporal cystic mass was then removed by craniotomy.

A histopathologic analysis was consistent with pituitary carcinoma. Cell morphology was generally similar to the primary pituitary tumor, but cell proliferation was higher. Physical exams showed no recurrence of Cushing’s disease and 24-hour free urinary cortisol was within the normal range.

His cervicomedullary metastasis was treated with radiation therapy in July 2010. He took the oral chemotherapy temozolomide until August 2011, and Avastin (bevacizumab, by Genentech) was administered from September 2010 to November 2012.

At present, the patient continues to undergo annual imaging and laboratory draws. He receives treatment with hydrocortisone, levothyroxine — synthetic thyroid hormone — and testosterone replacement with androgel.

His most recent exam showed no progression over eight years of a small residual right temporal cyst, a residual mass along the pituitary stalk — the connection between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland — and a small residual mass at the cervicomedullary junction. Lab results continue to show no Cushing’s recurrence.

“Our case is the first to document a patient who initially presented with an endocrinologically active ACTH secreting pituitary adenoma and Cushing’s disease who later developed cranial and spinal metastases without recurrence of Cushing’s disease and transformation to a silent corticotroph pituitary carcinoma,” the scientists wrote.

They added that the report is also the first documenting “8 years of progression-free survival in a patient with pituitary carcinoma treated with radiotherapy, [temozolomide] and bevacizumab.”

Adapted from https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2019/01/03/successful-treatment-pituitary-carcinoma-radiation-chemo-case-report/

Neurosurgical treatment of Cushing disease in pediatric patients: case series and review of literature

 2018 Nov 28. doi: 10.1007/s00381-018-4013-5. [Epub ahead of print]

Abstract

AIM:

Pituitary adenomas are rare in childhood in contrast with adults. Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting adenomas account for Cushing’s disease (CD) which is the most common form of ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome (CS). Treatment strategies are generally based on data of adult CD patients, although some difficulties and differences exist in pediatric patients. The aim of this study is to share our experience of 10 children and adolescents with CD.

PATIENTS AND METHOD:

Medical records, images, and operative notes of 10 consecutive children and adolescents who underwent transsphenoidal surgery for CD between 1999 and 2014 in Cerrahpasa Faculty of Medicine were retrospectively reviewed. Mean age at operation was 14.8 ± 4.2 years (range 5-18). The mean length of symptoms was 24.2 months. The mean follow-up period was 11 years (range 4 to 19 years).

RESULTS:

Mean preoperative cortisol level was 23.435 μg/dl (range 8.81-59.8 μg/dl). Mean preoperative ACTH level was 57.358 μg/dl (range 28.9-139.9 μg/dl). MR images localized microadenoma in three patients (30%), macroadenoma in four patients (40%) in our series. Transsphenoidal microsurgery and endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery were performed in 8 and 2 patients respectively. Remission was provided in 8 patients (80%). Five patients (50%) met remission criteria after initial operations. Three patients (30%) underwent additional operations to meet remission criteria.

CONCLUSION:

Transsphenoidal surgery remains the mainstay therapy for CD in pediatric patients as well as adults. It is an effective treatment option with low rate of complications. Both endoscopic and microscopic approaches provide safe access to sella and satisfactory surgical results.

KEYWORDS:

Cushing’s disease; Endoscopic pituitary surgery; Pediatric; Transsphenoidal microsurgery

PMID:
30488233
DOI:
10.1007/s00381-018-4013-5

Full Text

Mutations in Two Genes, USP48 and BRAF, Linked to Cushing’s Disease

Mutations in USP48 and BRAF genes contribute to the overproduction of adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) hormone by the pituitary gland and consequent development of Cushing’s disease, a study shows, linking these genes to the disease for a first time.

The study, “Identification of recurrent USP48 and BRAF mutations in Cushing’s disease,” published in the journal Nature Communications, also identified a possible treatment for patients with BRAF-related mutations.

Cushing’s disease is a condition characterized by excessive cortisol levels that, if left untreated, can lead to serious cardiovascular problems, infections, and mood disorders. It usually arises from benign pituitary tumors that produce too much of ACTH hormone, which in turn stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol.

It is still not clear why some people develop these tumors, but studies have pointed to mutations in the USP8 gene as a possible cause. They are present in 35%–62% of all tumor cases, and influence treatment response and long-term outcomes.

But major disease drivers in people whose tumors have no evidence of  USP8 mutations are unknown. Recognizing this gap, researchers in China examined tumor tissue samples from 22 patients with pituitary ademonas but a normal USP8 gene.

Their analysis revealed four genes that were recurrently mutated, including two — BRAF and USP48 — never before reported in this disease setting. Then, looking at 91 samples from patients, researchers found BRAF mutations in 17% of cases and USP48 mutations in 23% of patients.

These mutations were also found in patients with USP8-mutant pituitary tumors, but at a much lower rate — 5.1% for BRAF and 1.2% for USP48 mutations.

However, mutations in these two genes were not seen in patients with pituitary tumors producing other hormones, suggesting they are “unique genetic signatures of [ACTH-producing] adenomas,” the researchers wrote.

The team also found that BRAF and USP48 mutations activate signaling pathways that lead to the production of proopiomelanocortin (POMC), which is the precursor of ACTH.

“ACTH overproduction is a hallmark of Cushing’s disease and appears to be frequently induced by mutations in genes that tightly regulate POMC gene transcription in the pathogenesis of this disease,” investigators wrote.

Patients with BRAF and USP48 mutations had significantly higher levels of midnight plasma ACTH and midnight serum cortisol, compared to patients without these mutations. Tumor size, however, was similar among the two groups.

Interestingly, the team found that the BRAF inhibitor Zelboraf (vemurafenib) effectively reduced ACTH production in cells from ACTH-producing pituitary tumors. Zelboraf, marketed by Genentech, is approved in the U.S. and Europe to treat cancers with BRAF mutations, and findings suggest it may be a good therapeutic candidate for some people with Cushing’s disease.

“The mutational status of BRAFUSP8, and USP48 in corticotroph adenomas may be used in the future to characterize the molecular subtypes and guide targeted molecular therapy,” the researchers suggested.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/11/20/mutations-in-usp48-braf-genes-contribute-for-cushings-disease-study-finds/

Rare Case of Cushing’s Disease Diagnosed in 7-year-old Boy

A recent case report describes a 7-year-old boy with Cushing’s disease who had an unusual clinical presentation, which significantly delayed his diagnosis.

The study, “A variable course of Cushing’s disease in a 7 year old: diagnostic dilemma,” was published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Rare in children and adolescents, Cushing’s disease refers to overproduction of cortisol caused by excessive adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) secretion from a pituitary tumor. In pediatrics, early symptoms of excess cortisol include weight gain and delayed growth.

Despite being extremely unlikely in children younger than 7, some cases of Cushing’s disease in infancy have been reported.

“If undiagnosed or untreated it can lead to considerable morbidity and mortality, and the inability to detect a microadenoma [tumors smaller than 10 mm in diameter] on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can lead to a diagnostic dilemma leading to unnecessary delays in treatment initiation,” the researchers wrote.

Researchers from the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in New Delhi, India, described a 7-year-old boy who complained of excessive appetite and weight gain in the previous five months. The child weighed 46.8 kg, was 127 cm tall, and had a body mass index (BMI) of 29, indicating he was overweight.

The child’s excess fat was mainly in his abdomen plus he had a round, red, puffy face, which are both common features of Cushing’s disease. He had no history of acute or chronic steroid intake, mood swings, sleep disorders, or issues with eyesight.

Given his clinical presentation, the investigators suspected the boy had Cushing’s disease or pseudo-Cushing’s disease, which refers to situations where the overproduction of cortisol is caused by something unrelated to the disease, such as stress or uncontrolled diabetes mellitus.

Biochemical testing showed the patient had high levels of cortisol, which remained unchanged after a dexamethasone suppression test. In addition, his levels of “bad” cholesterol, referring to low-density lipoprotein, were extremely elevated at 194 mg/dL, where a normal range is defined as less than 110 mg/dL.

Imaging revealed no lesions in the pituitary gland.

The boy was sent home with dietary recommendations. Eight weeks later, he had lost 4 kg, while his height remained the same; he also complained of headaches and various episodes of double vision.

This confused the clinical team as hallmarks of Cushing’s disease include short stature and weight loss triggered by pharmacological therapy. Despite having lost weight, he did not take any medications to help him with it, plus the boy’s height was normal for his age.

Nonetheless, the patient was complaining of neurological symptoms, suggesting progression of Cushing’s disease.

An ophthalmologist did not observe anything abnormal with the child’s eyes that could explain his double vision episodes.

A new series of tests revealed slightly elevated 24-hour urinary cortisol levels, decreased concentration of ACTH, and mildly increased cortisol levels after a two-day dexamethasone suppression test.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed a small microadenoma in the right lobe of the pituitary gland.

Using Gamma Knife radiation therapy, a kind of high-precision radiation therapy, and surgery, doctors successfully removed the boy’s microadenoma. Six weeks post-procedure, his cortisol and ACTH concentrations returned to normal.

“MRI findings of the pituitary may be inconclusive in the beginning of the disease process and should be borne in mind during further follow-up. In cases where a clear-cut diagnosis may be difficult, a diligent follow-up is required to ascertain the course of the disease and to make timely diagnosis,” the investigators concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/10/25/rare-case-cushings-disease-diagnosed-7-year-old-boy-case-study/

%d bloggers like this: