Earwax may reveal how stressed you are

How stressed are you? Your earwax could hold the answer.

A new method of collecting and analyzing earwax for levels of the stress hormone cortisol may be a simple and cheap way to track the mental health of people with depression and anxiety.

Cortisol is a crucial hormone that spikes when a person is stressed and declines when they’re relaxed. In the short-term, the hormone is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, so it’s important for survival. But cortisol is often consistently elevated in people with depression and anxiety, and persistent high levels of cortisol can have negative effects on the immune system, blood pressure and other bodily functions.

There are other disorders which involve abnormal cortisol, including Cushing’s disease (caused by the overproduction of cortisol) and Addison’s disease (caused by the underproduction of cortisol). People with Cushing’s disease have abnormal fat deposits, weakened immune systems and brittle bones. People with Addison’s disease have dangerously low blood pressure.

There are a lot of ways to measure cortisol: in saliva, in blood, even in hair. But saliva and blood samples capture only a moment in time, and cortisol fluctuates significantly throughout the day. Even the experience of getting a needle stick to draw blood can increase stress, and thus cortisol levels. Hair samples can provide a snapshot of cortisol over several months instead of several minutes, but hair can be expensive to analyze — and some people don’t have much of it.

Andrés Herane-Vives, a lecturer at University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Institute of Psychiatry, and his colleagues instead turned to the ear. Earwax is stable and resistant to bacterial contamination, so it can be shipped to a laboratory easily for analysis. It also can hold a record of cortisol levels stretching over weeks.

But previous methods of harvesting earwax involved sticking a syringe into the ear and flushing it out with water, which can be slightly painful and stressful. So Herane-Vives and his colleagues developed a swab that, when used, would be no more stressful than a Q-tip. The swab has a shield around the handle, so that people can’t stick it too far into their ear and damage their eardrum, and a sponge at the end to collect the wax.

In a small pilot study, researchers collected blood, hair and earwax from 37 participants at two different time points. At each collection point, they sampled earwax using a syringe from one ear, and using the new self-swab method from the other. The researchers then compared the reliability of the cortisol measurements from the self-swab earwax with that of the other methods.

They found that cortisol was more concentrated in earwax than in hair, making for easier analysis. Analyzing the self-swabbed earwax was also faster and more efficient than analyzing the earwax from the syringe, which had to be dried out before using. Finally, the earwax showed more consistency in cortisol levels compared with the other methods, which were more sensitive to fluctuations caused by things like recent alcohol consumption. Participants also said that self-swabbing was more comfortable than the syringe method.

The researchers reported their findings Nov. 2 in the journal Heliyon. Herane-Vives is also starting a company called Trears to market the new method. In the future, he hopes that earwax could also be used to monitor other hormones. The researchers also need to follow up with studies of Asian individuals, who were left out of this pilot study because a significant number only produce dry, flaky earwax as opposed to wet, waxy earwax.

“After this successful pilot study, if our device holds up to further scrutiny in larger trials, we hope to transform diagnostics and care for millions of people with depression or cortisol-related conditions such as Addison’s disease and Cushing syndrome, and potentially numerous other conditions,” he said in a statement.

Originally published in Live Science.

Muscle Weakness Persists in Cushing’s Syndrome Despite Remission

People with Cushing’s syndrome experience muscle weakness that persists even when the disorder is in remission, a new study shows.

The study, “Persisting muscle dysfunction in Cushing’s syndrome despite biochemical remission,” was published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Cushing’s syndrome is characterized by abnormally high levels of the hormone cortisol. This can result in a variety of symptoms, including muscle weakness. However, it’s unclear the extent to which treatment of the underlying syndrome affects muscle weakness in the long term.

In the new study, researchers analyzed data for 88 people with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome diagnosed between 2012 and 2018 who had undergone regular muscle function tests. The data were collected as part of the German Cushing’s Registry, and the assessed group was mostly female (78%), with an average age of 49.

Of note, not all individuals had data available for every time point assessed — for example, at four years of follow-up, data were available for only 22 of the people analyzed.

Of the 88 individuals assessed, 49 had Cushing’s disease (a form of Cushing’s syndrome driven by a tumor on the pituitary gland). All 88 underwent curative surgery. The median time between diagnosis and remission was two months.

The researchers measured muscle strength in two ways: by grip strength and the chair rising test.

On average, and after statistical adjustments for age and sex, grip strength at diagnosis was 83% (with 100% reflecting the average for people without Cushing’s syndrome). Six months after surgery, average grip strength had decreased to 71%. A year after surgery, average grip strength was 77%. At all time points measured, up to four years after surgery, grip strength was significantly lowered in people with Cushing’s syndrome.

The chair rising test (CRT) involves measuring how quickly a person can rise from a seated position. Generally, being able to do so more quickly indicates greater muscle strength. People with Cushing’s syndrome showed improvement in the CRT six months after treatment (median 7 seconds), compared to the beginning of the study (8 seconds).

However, no further improvement was observed at subsequent time points up to four years, and compared to controls, CRT remained abnormal over time (7 seconds in Cushing patients at three years of follow-up vs 5 seconds in controls).

“The main finding of our study is that muscle strength remains impaired even after years in remission,” the researchers wrote.

“Another interesting finding is that at 6 months follow-up grip strength and CRT performance show opposite effects. Whereas grip strength has worsened, CRT performance has improved,” they added.

The investigators speculated that this difference is probably due to changes in body weight. Cushing’s syndrome commonly results in weight gain, and treatment resulted in significant decreases in body mass index in the analyzed group. As such, it may have been easier for individuals to stand up because there was less mass for their muscles to move, not necessarily because their muscles were stronger.

“Why patients with CS in remission showed a temporary worsening in grip strength 6 months after surgery remains unclear in terms of pathophysiology,” the researchers wrote.

They speculated that this could be due to treatment with glucocorticoids, which may affect muscle strength, but added that, “Whether the necessity of a long-term glucocorticoid replacement influences muscle strength or myopathy [muscle disease] outcome remains controversial.”

The researchers also conducted statistical analyses to determine what patient factors were associated with poorer muscle function outcomes. They found statistically significant associations between poor muscle function and older age, higher waist-to-hip-ratio, and higher levels of HbA1c (a marker of metabolic disease like diabetes).

“Influencing factors for myopathy outcome are age, waist-to-hip-ratio and HbA1c, suggesting that a consistent and strict treatment of diabetic metabolic state during hypercortisolism [high cortisol levels] is mandatory,” the investigators wrote.

The study was limited by its small sample size, the researchers noted, particularly at longer follow-up times, and by the fact that only a few measurements of muscle strength were used. Additionally, since all the data were collected at one of three centers in Germany, the analyzed population may not be representative of the worldwide population of people with Cushing’s syndrome.

Adapted from https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2020/09/30/muscle-weakness-persists-in-cushings-syndrome-despite-remission-study-finds/

High Cortisol Levels in Urine May Be Linked to Changes in Blood Sugar Metabolism

Abnormally high levels of cortisol in the urine — one of the hallmarks of Cushing’s syndrome — seem to be associated with alterations in blood sugar metabolism in obese patients, a study found.

The study, “Hypercortisolism and altered glucose homeostasis in obese patients in the pre-bariatric surgery assessment,” was published in the journal Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews.

Smart, Soft Contact Lens For Wireless Immunosensing of Cortisol

Abstract

Despite various approaches to immunoassay and chromatography for monitoring cortisol concentrations, conventional methods require bulky external equipment, which limits their use as mobile health care systems. Here, we describe a human pilot trial of a soft, smart contact lens for real-time detection of the cortisol concentration in tears using a smartphone. A cortisol sensor formed using a graphene field-effect transistor can measure cortisol concentration with a detection limit of 10 pg/ml, which is low enough to detect the cortisol concentration in human tears. In addition, this soft contact lens only requires the integration of this cortisol sensor with transparent antennas and wireless communication circuits to make a smartphone the only device needed to operate the lens remotely without obstructing the wearer’s view. Furthermore, in vivo tests using live rabbits and the human pilot experiment confirmed the good biocompatibility and reliability of this lens as a noninvasive, mobile health care solution.

INTRODUCTION

The steroid hormone, cortisol, which is known as a stress hormone, is secreted by the adrenal gland when people are stressed psychologically or physically (1). This secretion occurs when the adrenal gland is stimulated by adrenocorticotropic hormone, which is secreted by the pituitary gland when it is stimulated by the corticotropin-releasing hormone secreted by the hypothalamus. This serial cortisol secretion system is referred to as a hypothalamus–pituitary gland–adrenal gland axis, which is affected by chronic stress, resulting in abnormal secretion of cortisol (23). The accumulation of cortisol caused by the abnormal secretion of cortisol increases the concentrations of fat and amino acid, which can result in diverse severe diseases (e.g., Cushing’s disease, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular complications, and type 2 diabetes) and neurological disorders (such as depression and anxiety disorders) (27). In contrast, abnormally low cortisol levels can lead to Addison’s disease, which results in hypercholesterolemia, weight loss, and chronic fatigue (8). In addition, it was recently reported that plasma cortisol can be correlated to the prognosis of traumatic brain injury (9). Furthermore, the extent of cortisol secretion varies from person to person, and it changes continuously (1011). Thus, developing health care systems for real-time monitoring of the cortisol level has been explored extensively over the past decade as the key to the quantitative analysis of stress levels. Although various efforts have led to the development of cortisol sensors that can measure the concentration of cortisol in blood, saliva, sweat, hair, urine, and interstitial fluid (1217), the accurate measurement of cortisol concentrations has been limited because of the difficulties associated with the transportation and storage of cortisol as well as the instability of the biologically active cortisol in these body fluids at room temperature. In addition, these conventional sensing methods require bulky equipment for the extraction and analysis of these body fluids, which is not suitable for mobile health care systems (1218). Therefore, the development of noninvasive and wearable sensors that can monitor cortisol concentration accurately is highly desirable for a smart health care solution. For example, the immunoassay method, which uses an antigen-antibody binding reaction, has been used extensively for electrochemical cortisol immunosensors using saliva and interstitial fluid, except tears (121419). However, these immunosensors still require the use of bulky impedance analyzers for the analysis of the Nyquist plot from electrochemical impedance spectroscopy. Although the cyclic voltammetry (CV) technique can be used as an alternative approach for sensing cortisol, additional bulky electrochemical instruments still are necessary for analyzing the CV curves (131419). Recently, wearable forms of cortisol sensors that use sweat were developed (15), but they still required bulky measurement equipment (1516). Therefore, portable and smart sensors that can monitor the accurate concentration of cortisol in real time are highly desirable for use in mobile health care.

Among the various body fluids, tears, in particular, contain important biomarkers, including cortisol (2021). Thus, the integration of biosensors with contact lenses is a potentially attractive candidate for the noninvasive and real-time monitoring of these biomarkers from tears (2225). However, an approach for fabricating a smart contact lens for sensing the cortisol in tears has not been demonstrated previously. Thus, here, we present an extraordinary approach for the formation of a smart, soft contact lens that enables remote, real-time monitoring of the cortisol level in the wearer’s tears using mobile phones. This smart, soft contact lens is composed of a cortisol sensor, a wireless antenna, capacitors, resistors, and integrated circuit chips that use stretchable interconnects without obstructing the wearer’s view. The components of this device (except the antenna) were protected from mechanical deformations by locating each of the components on discrete, rigid islands and by embedding these islands inside an elastic layer. A graphene field-effect transistor (FET; with the binding of monoclonal antibody) was used as this cortisol immunosensor, which exhibited a sufficiently low detection limit, i.e., 10 pg/ml, for its sensing of cortisol in human tears in which the cortisol concentration ranges from 1 to 40 ng/ml (26). This sensor was integrated with a near-field communication (NFC) chip and antenna inside the soft contact lens for the real-time wireless transmission of the data to the user’s mobile device (e.g., a smart phone or a smart watch). The antenna occupies a relatively large area of this soft lens, so it requires its high stretchability, good transparency, and low resistance for operating a standard NFC chip at 13.56 MHz. In our approach, the hybrid random networks of ultralong silver nanofibers (AgNFs) and fine silver nanowires (AgNWs) enabled high transparency and good stretchability of this antenna and its low sheet resistance for reliable standard NFCs (at 13.56 MHz) inside this smart contact lens. Thus, the fully integrated system of this smart contact lens provided wireless and battery-free operation for the simultaneous detection and transmission of the cortisol concentration from tears to a mobile phone using standard NFC. In addition, a human pilot trial and in vivo tests conducted using live rabbits demonstrated the biocompatibility of this lens, and its safety against inflammation and thermal/electromagnetic field radiation suggests its substantial usability as a noninvasive, mobile health care solution.

RESULTS

Cortisol immunosensor

A graphene FET sensor was fabricated by binding the cortisol monoclonal antibody (C-Mab) to the surface of graphene for the immunosensing of cortisol. Here, graphene acts as a transducer that converts the interaction between cortisol and C-Mab into electrical signals. Figure 1A shows the immobilization process of C-Mab to graphene. Immobilization proceeds through amide bonding of the C-Mab onto the carboxyl group of the graphene surface via the EDC [1-ethyl-3-(3-dimethylaminopropyl) carbodiimide hydrochloride]/NHS (N-hydroxysulfosuccinimide) coupling reaction. A chemical vapor deposition–synthesized graphene layer was transferred onto a desired substrate and exposed to ultraviolet ozone (UVO) to activate the surface of the graphene with the carboxylate group. Figure S1 shows the contact angle between this surface of the graphene and a droplet of deionized (DI) water. Longer exposure time to UVO can decrease the hydrophobicity of graphene with decreasing the contact angle. Table S1 shows the increase in the electrical resistance of graphene that resulted from this UVO treatment. In our experiment, 2 min of exposure time to UVO decreased the contact angle from 70° to 38° without increasing the resistance of the graphene notably. UVO exposure times longer than this threshold time degraded the resistance of the graphene excessively, so the time of exposure of our samples to UVO was limited to 2 min. Figure S2A illustrates the process of immobilizing C-Mab through the EDC/NHS coupling reaction. This two-step coupling reaction of EDC and NHS can mediate the amide bonding between the carboxylate group of the UVO-exposed graphene and the amine group of the protein (12172728). Here, EDC forms reactive O-acylisourea ester, thereby making the surface unstable. This O-acylisourea ester reacts with the NHS to form amine-reactive NHS ester with the surface still remaining semistable. Then, C-Mab with the amine group reacts with the amine-reactive NHS ester, thereby forming stable amide bonding that can immobilize C-Mab to the NHS on the surface of the graphene. Figure S2B shows the Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy spectra of the DI water after the cortisol sensor had been immersed for 24 hours. The spectra of the DI water in which the sensor was immersed were not significantly different from those of the pristine DI water. However, the C-Mab solution that had a concentration of 1 μg/ml had a significant peak intensity in the range of 3000 to 2800 cm−1, representing the N-H bonding in the C-Mab. These results indicated that C-Mab formed stable bonding on the carboxylated graphene and was negligibly detached by exposure to water.

From https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/28/eabb2891

Estrogen receptor α plays an important role in Cushing’s syndrome during pregnancy

Abstract

Cushing’s syndrome (CS) during pregnancy is very rare with a few cases reported in the literature.

Of great interest, some cases of CS during pregnancy spontaneously resolve after delivery. Most studies suggest that aberrant luteinizing hormone (LH)/human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) receptor (LHCGR) seems to play a critical role in the pathogenesis of CS during pregnancy.

However, not all women during pregnancy are observed cortisol hypersecretion. Moreover, some cases of adrenal tumors or macronodular hyperplasia with LHCGR expressed, have no response to hCG or LH.

Therefore, alternative pathogenic mechanisms are indicated. It has been recently reported that estrogen binding to estrogen receptor α (ERα) could enhance the adrenocortical adenocarcinoma (ACC) cell proliferation.

Herein, we hypothesize that ERα is probably involved in CS development during pregnancy.

Better understanding of the possible mechanism of ERα on cortisol production and adrenocortical tumorigenesis will contribute to the diagnosis and treatment of CS during pregnancy.

Read the entire article here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987720303893?via%3Dihub

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