ACTH/Cortisol Ratio May Be Simple, Reliable Test to Diagnose Cushing’s Disease

The ratio between adrenocorticotropic hormone levels and cortisol levels in the blood is higher among Cushing’s disease patients than in healthy people, a new study has found, suggesting that measurement could be used to help diagnose the disease.

Also, higher values at diagnosis could predict if the disease will recur and indicate larger and more invasive tumors.

The research, “The Utility of Preoperative ACTH/Cortisol Ratio for the Diagnosis and Prognosis of Cushing’s Disease,” was published in the Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice.

Cushing’s syndrome (CS) is characterized by excess levels of cortisol. In patients with suspected CS, clinicians recommend testing late-night salivary or plasma (blood) cortisol, 24-hour urine-free cortisol (UC), as well as morning cortisol levels after low-dose suppression with dexamethasone, a corticosteroid.

CS may be ACTH-dependent or ACTH-independent, meaning that the high cortisol levels are caused by excess ACTH production.

Patients with CD have elevated levels of ACTH. A tumor, usually an adenoma, causes the pituitary gland to produce excess levels of ACTH, which stimulate the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Cortisol usually inhibits ACTH production. However, in CD patients, this feedback mechanism is absent.

Despite extensive research and clinical data, the variable and usually nonspecific signs and symptoms of CD still represent relevant challenges for diagnosis. Clinical manifestations must be associated with biochemical tests, which often have led to conflicting results.

Studies showed that although ACTH levels correlate with the size of the pituitary adenoma, the levels of cortisol do not increase as much. In fact, lower cortisol/ACTH ratios have been reported in patients with macroadenoma – which is greater than 10 millimeters in size – than in those with microadenoma, which is smaller than 10 millimeters.

Conversely, the research team hypothesized that besides their utility for determining the cause of CS, the inverse ratio – ACTH/cortisol – also may be useful for diagnosis.

The team evaluated the pretreatment plasma ACTH/cortisol levels in CS patients with excess cortisol production due to abnormal pituitary or adrenal function. Data from patients were compared with that of individuals without CS.

The study included 145 CS patients diagnosed from 2007 to 2016, 119 patients with CD, 26 with ACTH-independent CS (AICS), and 114 controls with no CS.

Patients’ clinical, laboratory, imaging, postsurgical and follow-up data were analyzed.

Results showed that patients with CD had a significantly higher basal ACTH/cortisol ratio than controls or those with AICS.

“These results showed ACTH/cortisol ratio might be a simple and useful test for the diagnosis of ACTH-dependent CS,” the researchers wrote.

Importantly, the scientists observed that a ACTH/cortisol ratio above 2.5 indicated identified 82 percent of positive CS cases and 63 percent of controls.

Overall, “an ACTH/cortisol ratio [greater than] 2.5 would be beneficial to diagnose CD together with other diagnostic tests,” they concluded.

Patients with recurrent CD showed higher pretreatment ACTH levels and ACTH/cortisol ratio than those who achieved sustained remission. CD patients also exhibited more invasive, atypical and larger tumors, as well as lower postoperative remission and higher recurrence rates.

“Higher ACTH/cortisol ratio might predict poorer prognosis,” the investigators said.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/03/16/acth-cortisol-ratio-reliable-test-diagnose-cushings-disease/

Mild Cortisol Increases Affect Cardiovascular Changes Linked to Heart Disease in Cushing’s

Increases in cortisol secretion, even if mild, induce early heart and blood vessel changes that may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, according to Italian researchers.

The findings continue to support the role of the hormone cortisol in heart disease, and demonstrate the need for carefully monitoring cardiovascular risk in patients with high levels of the hormone, including those with Cushing’s disease.

The study, “Cardiovascular features of possible autonomous cortisol secretion in patients with adrenal incidentalomas,” was published in the European Journal of Endocrinology.

While most patients with adrenal incidentalomas don’t have symptoms, nearly half have excess cortisol production. Adrenal incidentalomas are masses in the adrenal glands discovered only when a patient undergoes imaging tests for another unrelated condition.

These asymptomatic, mild cortisol-producing cases are defined as possible autonomous cortisol secretion (pACS), according to the European Society of Endocrinology Guidelines.

Excess production of the hormone, seen in Cushing’s disease patients, is associated with increased mortality, mainly due to heart diseases. Patients with asymptomatic adrenal adenomas and mild cortisol secretion also have more cardiovascular events and generally die sooner than those with normal cortisol levels.

But little is known about the causes behind cardiac and vessel damage in these patients.

To shed light on this matter, a research team at Sapienza University of Rome evaluated the cardiovascular status of patients with pACS. This allowed them to study the impact of cortisol in the heart and blood vessels without the interference of other hormone and metabolic imbalances seen in Cushing’s disease.

The ERGO trial (NCT02611258) included 71 patients. All had been diagnosed with adrenal incidentalomas, 34 of which were pACS with mildly increased levels of the hormone and 37 were defined as nonfunctioning adenoma (NFA) — adrenal masses with normal hormone levels.

The two groups were very similar, with no significant differences in metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors. Adrenal lesions in the pACS group, however, were significantly bigger, which was linked to cortisol levels.

Looking at the heart morphology, researchers found that pACS patients had a significantly higher left ventricular mass index (LVMI), which is a well-established predictive measure of adverse cardiovascular events.

Further analysis revealed that LVMI scores were associated with levels of the hormone, suggesting it has an “independent effect of cortisol on cardiac function,” the researchers wrote.

Slightly more than half of pACS patients (53%) also had a thicker left ventricle, a feature that was seen only in 13.5% of NFA patients. The performance of the left ventricle during diastole (muscle relaxation) was also affected in 82.3% of pACS patients, compared to 35.1% in those with NFA.

Patients with pACS also had less flexible arteries, which may contribute to the development of vascular diseases.

The results show that “mild autonomous cortisol secretion can sustain early cardiac and vascular remodeling” in patients who appear apparently healthy, the researchers said.

“The morphological and functional cardiovascular changes observed in pACS underline the need for further studies to correctly define the long-term management of this relatively common condition,” they added.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/03/13/cushings-disease-increased-cortisol-affects-cardiovascular-changes-heart-disease/

Case Report Shows Rare Adrenal Tumors Associated with Cushing’s Disease

Pituitary tumors that produce too much adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) have been associated with the development of rare tumors on the adrenal glands, called adrenal myelolipomas, for the first time in a case report.

The study, “Case report of a bilateral adrenal myelolipoma associated with Cushing disease,” was published in the journal Medicine.

Myelolipomas, composed of mature fat cells and blood-forming cells, are usually asymptomatic and do not produce hormones. In many cases, these tumors are detected by accident when patients undergo imaging scans for other conditions.

The cause of these tumors is unknown, but due to their benign nature, they do not spread to other parts of the body. However, they can grow up to 34 centimeters (about 13 inches), leading to tissue death and hemorrhage.

Researchers at Soon Chun Hyang University College of Medicine in Seoul, Korea, described the case of a 52-year-old man with myelolipoma possibly caused by an ACTH-secreting pituitary tumor.

During a routine checkup, researchers detected a mass in the patient’s spleen. Further abdominal evaluations identified tissue lesions in both adrenal glands consistent with myelolipoma. Besides the masses, the patient did not show any other Cushing-associated physical characteristics.

However, the patient’s ACTH levels were two times higher than the normal upper limit. Cortisol levels were also increased and unresponsive to low-dose dexamethasone treatment.

No additional lesions were found that could help explain the high ACTH and cortisol levels. But analysis of blood samples collected from the veins draining the pituitary glands revealed the right gland was producing too much ACTH, strongly suggesting Cushing’s disease.

Both the left adrenal gland and pituitary tumor were surgically removed. The samples collected during surgery confirmed the benign nature of the adrenal tumors, and the diagnosis of abnormal, ACTH-positive pituitary gland tissue.

Three days after the surgeries, hormone levels were back to normal. But a follow-up evaluation five months later again showed increased ACTH levels. Cortisol levels, however, were normal.

For the next seven years, the patient was evaluated every six months. During a five-year period, the size of the right adrenal gland was found to have grown. Imaging analysis confirmed the existence of small, new lesions in both pituitary glands.

“This case confers valuable information about the clinical course of adrenal myelolipoma associated with Cushing disease,” the researchers said. It also “supports the notion that ACTH can be associated with the development of bilateral adrenal myelolipomas.”

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/03/08/bilateral-adrenal-myelolipoma-associated-with-cushing-disease-case-report/

High Levels of MMP-9 Enzyme May Predict Tumor Recurrence in Cushing’s Patients

Measuring the levels of a specific enzyme in pituitary tumors producing excess adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) may help predict the recurrence of Cushing’s disease in patients, a study shows.

The study, “Expression of MMP-9, PTTG, HMGA2, and Ki-67 in ACTH-secreting pituitary tumors and their association with tumor recurrence,” was published in the journal World Neurosurgery.

Cushing’s syndrome is characterized by excess cortisol levels in the blood. In 70 percent of cases, this is caused by pituitary tumors making too much ACTH, a hormone that regulates cortisol production. This condition is called Cushing’s disease.

While transsphenoidal adenomectomy, a surgery to remove a pituitary gland tumor, is the first treatment choice, tumor recurrence rates can be as high as 45 percent.

Only a few studies have investigated the association between biomarkers and the risk of ACTH-secreting pituitary tumors recurring, leaving physicians with limited methods to predict which patients will have a recurrence.

Identifying biomarkers that can effectively predict the potential recurrence of Cushing’s disease would allow clinicians to look for early signs in patients and start appropriate follow-up and therapeutic protocols, avoiding long-term mortality.

Many studies have suggested that matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) enzymes, the pituitary tumor transforming gene (PTTG), and high mobility group A 2 proteins (HMGA2) all play vital roles in the development of pituitary tumors.

Metalloproteinases (MMPs) are enzymes that work to degrade the cell’s extracellular matrix, which anchors the cell, thus enabling tumor invasion. PTTG is highly expressed in pituitary tumors, and is a marker of malignancy in many types of tumors. HMGA2 is overexpressed in various tumors, and is also associated with high malignancy.

However, whether levels of MMP-9, PTTG, and HMGA2 are related to ACTH-secreting tumor recurrence has not been investigated.

Researchers set out to determine the expression levels of MMP-9, PTTG, HMGA2, and Ki-67 (a marker of cell growth) in ACTH-secreting pituitary tumors, and evaluate their association with tumor behavior and recurrence.

They conducted a retrospective study that included 55 patients with sporadic Cushing’s disease with long-term remission after a transsphenoidal adenomectomy. Their tumor specimens were collected and examined.

Patients were divided into two groups based on whether or not they had tumor recurrence. There were 28 patients in the non-recurrent group, and 27 in the recurrent.

Results showed there was significantly increased expression of MMP-9 in tumor samples of recurrent patients, compared with the non-recurrent group. Levels of MMP-9 were also strongly associated with a shorter time period to recurrence (recurrence-free interval).

On the other hand, PTTG, HMGA2, and Ki-67 expression was not significantly different between the recurrent group and the non-recurrent group.

“ACTH-secreting pituitary tumors with higher levels of MMP-9 were associated with a higher recurrence rate and a shorter recurrence-free interval. MMP-9 could be a valuable tool for predicting recurrence of ACTH-secreting pituitary tumors,” the researchers concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/03/02/mmp-9-enzyme-levels-may-predict-tumor-recurrence-in-cushings-study/

Adrenal Gland Lump Led to 5-year-old Developing Cushing’s, Starting Puberty

Non-cancerous adrenal gland tumors can lead to rare cases of Cushing’s syndrome in young children and puberty starting years before it should, a case study of a 5-year-old boy shows.

Removing his right adrenal gland eliminated the problems, the Saudi Arabian researchers said.

Their report dealt with tumors in epithelial cells, which line the surface of many of the body’s structures and cavities.

The research, “Testosterone- and Cortisol-secreting Oncocytic Adrenocortical Adenoma in the Pediatric Age-group,” appeared in the journal Pediatric and Developmental Pathology.

Most tumors in adrenal gland epithelial cells are benign and generate normal levels of hormones. But there are cases when the tumors over-produce steroids and other kinds of hormones, including sex hormones. Sometimes the over-production can lead to Cushing’s syndrome.

The 5-year-old boy’s over-production of adrenal gland hormones led to both symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome and signs that he was starting puberty, the researchers said.

One reason the case was rare is that the average age when Cushing’s develops is 40, doctors say. Another is that epithelial adrenal gland tumors account for only 0.2 percent of all tumors in children, the researchers said.

Signs that the boy was starting puberty began appearing eight months before his parents took him for treatment. Doctors discovered he had the weight gain and rounded face associated with Cushing’s, but a battery of tests detected no other problems. No family members were experiencing the symptoms he was, doctors added.

Biochemical tests showed that the boy had a high level of cortisol in his blood, which doctors were unable to lower with the corticosteroid suppression medication dexamethasone.

Physicians also discovered that the boy had elevated levels of the male hormone testosterone, the cortisol precursor 17-hydroxyprogestrone, the cortisol-releasing hormone adrenocorticotropin, and another male hormone that the adrenal gland produces — dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate

In contrast, doctors discovered a below-normal level of luteinising, a sex hormone that the pituitary gland generates.

Another unusual manifestation of the boy’s condition was that his bone growth was that of a child a year older than he.

Doctors discovered a non-cancerous tumor in his right adrenal gland that they decided to remove. When they did, they discovered no evidence of bleeding, tissue scarring or cell death.

They put the boy on a hydrocortisone supplement, which they reduced over time and finally ended.

Twenty-eight months after the surgery, the boy showed no signs of Cushing’s disease or early puberty. And his weight, cortisol and adrenocorticotropin hormone levels were normal.

“To the best of our knowledge, our patient represents the first male patient” with a benign epithelial-cell adrenal gland tumor “in the pediatric population, with clinical presentation of precocious [early] puberty and Cushing’s syndrome,” the researchers wrote.

“As these tumors are exceptionally rare, reporting of additional cases and investigation of clinicopathological [disease] data are needed for better characterization of these tumors,” they wrote.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/02/16/cushings-syndrome-early-puberty-5-year-old-boy-case-study/

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