Night Cortisol Levels for Diagnosing Cushing’s Syndrome Less Accurate in Clinical Practice

Salivary cortisol levels can be used to diagnose Cushing’s syndrome with relatively high reliability, but each test center should establish its own measurement limits depending on the exact method used for the test, a study from Turkey shows.

Researchers, however, caution that late-night salivary cortisol measurements in clinical practice is likely to be less accurate than that seen in controlled studies, and some patients might require additional tests for a correct diagnosis.

The study, “Diagnostic value of the late-night salivary cortisol in the diagnosis of clinical and subclinical Cushing’s syndrome: results of a single-center 7-year experience,” was published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine

In healthy individuals, the levels of cortisol — a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal glands — go through changes over a 24-hour period, with the lowest levels normally detected at night.

But this circadian rhythm is disrupted in certain diseases such as Cushing’s syndrome, where night cortisol levels can be used as a diagnostic tool.

Among the tests that can be used to detect these levels are late-night serum cortisol (LNSeC) and late-night salivary cortisol (LNSaC) tests. Since it uses saliva samples, LNSaC is more practical and does not require hospitalization, so it is often recommended for the diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome.

So far, though, there has been no consensus regarding cutoff values and the sensitivity of the test.

Mustafa Kemal Balci, MD, and his team at the Akdeniz University in Turkey aimed to evaluate the diagnostic use of LNSaC in patients with clinical Cushing’s syndrome and in those with subclinical Cushing’s syndrome — people with excess cortisol but without signs of the disease.

The study involved 58 patients with clinical Cushing’s syndrome (CCS), 53 with subclinical Cushing’s syndrome (SCS), and 213 patients without Cushing’s syndrome who were used as controls.

Saliva and serum cortisol levels were measured in all patients, and statistical tests were used to study differences in these levels among the three groups of patients.

In CSC patients, the median cortisol levels were 0.724 micrograms per deciliter of blood (µg/dL), which dropped to 0.398 and 0.18 in patients with subclinical disease and controls.

The optimal cutoff point to distinguish patients with clinical Cushing’s was set at 0.288 µg/dL, where 89.6% of patients identified as positive actually have the disease (sensitivity), and 81.6% of patients deemed as negative were without the disease (specificity).

With a lower cutoff point — 0.273 µg/dL — researchers were also able to identify patients with subclinical disease with high sensitivity and specificity.

While the test showed high sensitivity and specificity values for clinical Cushing’s syndrome, its diagnostic performance was lower than expected in daily clinical practice, researchers said.

“The diagnostic performance of late-night salivary cortisol in patients with subclinical Cushing’s syndrome was close to its diagnostic performance in patients with clinical Cushing’s syndrome,” researchers wrote.

However, regarding the application of this test in other centers, they emphasize that “each center should determine its own cut-off value based on the method adopted for late-night salivary cortisol measurement, and apply that cut-off value in the diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome.”

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/07/31/late-night-salivary-cortisol-levels-questioned-diagnosis-cushings-syndrome/

MEKT1 Could Be a Potential New Therapy for Treating Cushing’s Disease

MEKT1, a type of therapy called a PPAR-γ agonist, acts to reduce levels of the adrenocorticotropic hormone and could be a potential new therapy for Cushing’s disease, according to researchers.

Their study, “Inhibitory Effects of a Novel PPAR-γ Agonist MEKT1 on Pomc Expression/ACTH Secretion in AtT20 Cells,” was published in the journal PPAR Research.

Cushing’s disease is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland — generally a type of tumor called an adenoma that produces high levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).

ACTH causes the adrenal glands to make too much cortisol, leading to the classic symptoms associated with Cushing’s disease.

PPAR-gamma (PPAR-γ) is a transcription factor protein (meaning it regulates the levels of certain genes by acting through other proteins), and is seen in high levels in the normal human pituitary and in ACTH-secreting pituitary adenomas.

The Pomc gene is a precursor molecule to ACTH. While it is known that PPAR-γ plays a role in regulating Pomc levels, its mechanism has not yet been clarified in pituitary cells.

PPAR-γ agonists — agents that activate PPAR-γ — include the medications rosiglitazone and pioglitazone, both of which are used to treat type 2 diabetes. Some studies have shown that rosiglitazone and pioglitazone have an effect on Pomc suppression, which would lead to lower levels of ACTH and help treat patients with Cushing’s disease.

However, the benefits of PPAR-γ agonists in the treatment of Cushing’s disease are still controversial.

Researchers examined the effects of a new PPAR-γ agonist, MEKT1, on Pomc levels and ACTH secretion using a mouse pituitary tumor-derived cell line called AtT20 cells. They also compared its effects with the well-established PPAR-γ agonists rosiglitazone and pioglitazone.

AtT20 cells were treated with either MEKT1, rosiglitazone, or pioglitazone at various concentrations ranging from 1 nM to 10 μM (micrometers) for 24 hours.

Results showed that 10 μM of MEKT1 significantly inhibited Pomc gene levels compared to rosiglitazone and pioglitazone. Additionally, ACTH secretion from AtT20 cells was also significantly inhibited by the agonist.

To see if it worked to decrease Pomc levels by acting specifically on PPAR-γ, researchers eliminated the PPAR-γ protein using a technique called siRNA knockdown. In this case, the effects of MEKT1 on Pomc levels were significantly halted.

It is known that other proteins, such as Nur77, Nurr1, and Tpit activate Pomc levels by binding to the promoter region of Pomc — the area of the gene responsible for activating gene levels.

To determine whether these proteins could be targeted by MEKT1, researchers also looked at levels of Nur77, Nurr1, and Tpit. The PPAR-γ agonist was found to significantly suppress the levels of the three genes that encode these proteins.

“Although clinical trials of MEKT1 are needed to determine its drug efficacy in the future, it can be speculated that MEKT1 is much more effective than the previously recognized PPAR-γ agonists rosiglitazone, and pioglitazone for the suppression of Pomc expression/ACTH secretion from our in vitro [laboratory] research,” they added.

Results from this study suggest MEKT1 could be a potential new therapy for the treatment of Cushing’s disease.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/06/12/mekt1-could-be-potential-therapy-treatment-cushings-disease/

Health Alert: Adrenal Crisis Causes Death in Some People Who Were Treated with hGH

Doctors conducting the follow-up study of individuals treated with hGH looked at causes of death among recipients and found some disturbing news. Many more people have died from a treatable condition called adrenal crisis than from CJD (MaryO’Note: Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease). This risk does not affect every recipient. It can affect those who lack other hormones in addition to growth hormone. Please read on to find out if this risk applies to you. Death from adrenal crisis can be prevented.

Adrenal crisis is a serious condition that can cause death in people who lack the pituitary hormone ACTH. ACTH is responsible for regulating the adrenal gland. Often, people are unaware that they lack this hormone and therefore do not know about their risk of adrenal crisis.

Most people who were treated with hGH did not make enough of their own growth hormone. Some of them lacked growth hormone because they had birth defects, tumors or other diseases that cause the pituitary gland to malfunction or shut down. People with those problems frequently lack other key hormones made by the pituitary gland, such as ACTH, which directs the adrenal gland to make cortisol, a hormone necessary for life. Having too little cortisol can be fatal if not properly treated.

Treatment with hGH does not cause adrenal crisis, but because a number of people lacking growth hormone also lack ACTH, adrenal crisis has occurred in some people who were treated with hGH. In earlier updates we have talked about how adrenal crisis can be prevented, but people continue to die from adrenal crisis, which is brought on by lack of cortisol. These deaths can be prevented. Please talk to your doctor about whether you are at risk for adrenal crisis.

  • Why should people treated with hGH know about adrenal crisis? Among the people who received hGH, those who had birth defects, tumors, and other diseases affecting the brain lacked hGH and often, other hormones made by the pituitary gland. A shortage of the hormones that regulate the adrenal glands can cause many health problems. It can also lead to death from adrenal crisis. This tragedy can be prevented.
  • What are adrenal hormones? The pituitary gland makes many hormones, including growth hormone and ACTH, a hormone which signals the adrenal glands to make cortisol, a hormone needed for life. If the adrenal gland doesn’t make enough cortisol, replacement medications must be taken. The most common medicines used for cortisol replacement are:
    • Hydrocortisone
    • Prednisone
    • Dexamethasone
  • What is adrenal crisis? Adrenal hormones are needed for life. The system that pumps blood through the body cannot work during times of physical stress, such as illness or injury, if there is a severe lack of cortisol (or its replacement). People who lack cortisol must take their cortisol replacement medication on a regular basis, and when they are sick or injured, they must take extra cortisol replacement to prevent adrenal crisis. When there is not enough cortisol, adrenal crisis can occur and may rapidly lead to death.
  • What are the symptoms of lack of adrenal hormones? If you don’t have enough cortisol or its replacement, you may have some of these problems:
    • feeling weak
    • feeling tired all the time
    • feeling sick to your stomach
    • vomiting
    • no appetite
    • weight loss

    When someone with adrenal gland problems has weakness, nausea, or vomiting, that person needs immediate emergency treatment to prevent adrenal crisis and possible death.

  • Why are adrenal hormones so important? Cortisol (or its replacement) helps the body respond to stress from infection, injury, or surgery. The normal adrenal gland responds to serious illness by making up to 10 times more cortisol than it usually makes. It automatically makes as much as the body needs. If you are taking a cortisol replacement drug because your body cannot make these hormones, you must increase the cortisol replacement drugs during times of illness, injury, or surgery. Some people make enough cortisol for times when they feel well, but not enough to meet greater needs when they are ill or injured. Those people might not need cortisol replacement every day but may need to take cortisol replacement medication when their body is under stress. Adrenal crisis is extremely serious and can cause death if not treated promptly. Discuss this problem with your doctor to help decide whether you need more medication or other treatment to protect your health.
  • How is adrenal crisis treated? People with adrenal crisis need immediate treatment. Any delay can cause death. When people with adrenal crisis are vomiting or unconscious and cannot take medicine, the hormones can be given as an injection. Getting an injection of adrenal hormones can save your life if you are in adrenal crisis. If you lack the ability to make cortisol naturally, you should carry a medical ID card and wear a Medic-Alert bracelet to tell emergency workers that you lack adrenal hormones and need treatment. This precaution can save your life if you are sick or injured.
  • How can I prevent adrenal crisis?
    • If you are always tired, feel weak, and have lost weight, ask your doctor if you might have a shortage of adrenal hormones.
    • If you take hydrocortisone, prednisone, or dexamethasone, learn how to increase the dose when you become ill.
    • If you are very ill, especially if you are vomiting and cannot take pills, seek emergency medical care immediately. Make sure you have a hydrocortisone injection with you at all times, and make sure that you and those around you (in case you’re not conscious) know how and when to administer the injection.
    • Carry a medical ID card and wear a bracelet telling emergency workers that you have adrenal insufficiency and need cortisol. This way, they can treat you right away if you are injured.

Remember: Some people who lacked growth hormone may also lack cortisol, a hormone necessary for life. Lack of cortisol can cause adrenal crisis, a preventable condition that can cause death if treated improperly. Deaths from adrenal crisis can be prevented if patients and their families recognize the condition and are careful to treat it right away. Adrenal crisis is a medical emergency. Know the symptoms and how to adjust your medication when you are ill. Taking these precautions can save your life.

From https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/national-hormone-pituitary-program/health-alert-adrenal-crisis-causes-death-people-treated-hgh

Medical therapy ‘reasonable option’ vs. surgery in Cushing’s disease

In a large percentage of patients with Cushing’s disease, medical therapy effectively induces cortisol normalization, suggesting the choice may serve as a useful first-line treatment vs. surgery for some, according to findings from a systematic review and meta-analysis published in Pituitary.

Cushing’s syndrome is generally approached by removal of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-producing tumor in ectopic disease and by adrenalectomy in ACTH-independent disease, Leonie H. A. Broersen, MD, of the department of medicine at Leiden University Medical Centre in Leiden, Netherlands, wrote in the study background. However, medical therapy can be used to control cortisol secretion preoperatively and as a “bridge” until control of hypercortisolism is achieved by radiotherapy, whereas use of medical therapy as a first-line treatment is increasing, they noted.

“Medical treatment is a reasonable treatment option for Cushing’s disease patients in case of a contraindication for surgery, a recurrence, or in patients choosing not to have surgery,” Broersen told Endocrine Today. “In case of side effects or no treatment effect, an alternate medical therapy or combination therapy can be considered.”

Broersen and colleagues analyzed data from 35 studies with 1,520 patients reporting on six medical therapies for Cushing’s disease, including studies assessing pasireotide (n = 2; Signifor LAR, Novartis), mitotane (n = 5; Lysodren, Bristol-Myers Squibb), cabergoline (n = 3), ketoconazole (n = 8), metyrapone (n = 5; Metopirone, HRA Pharma), mifepristone (n = 2; Korlym, Corcept Therapeutics) and multiple medical agents (n = 10), all published between 1971 and 2017. Studies included 11 single-arm trials, two randomized controlled trials with two treatment arms, and 22 cohort studies. In 28 studies, normalization of cortisol was measured by urinary free cortisol, midnight salivary cortisol or a low-dose dexamethasone test, with 25 studies reporting on clinical improvement and three studies reporting on quality of life.

Across studies, medical treatment was effective in normalizing cortisol levels in Cushing’s disease in 35.7% (cabergoline) to 81.8% (mitotane) of patients, according to the researchers. In seven studies reporting data separately for medical therapy as primary (n = 4) or secondary therapy (n = 5), researchers found medication as primary therapy normalized cortisol levels in 58.1% of patients (95% CI, 49.7-66.2), similar to the effect of medication as a secondary therapy (57.8%; 95% CI, 41.3-73.6). In studies in which at least 80% of patients with Cushing’s disease were pretreated with medication before surgery, researchers observed a preoperative normalization of cortisol levels in 32.3% of patients (95% CI, 20-45.8). Patients using medical monotherapy experienced a lower percentage of cortisol normalization vs. patients using multiple agents (49.4% vs. 65.7%), according to researchers, with normalization rates higher among patients with concurrent or previous radiotherapy.

Across studies, 39.9% of patients experienced mild adverse effects, and 15.2% experienced severe adverse effects.

“Importantly, medical agents for hypercortisolism can cause severe side effects, leading to therapy adjustment or withdrawal in 4.8% (cabergoline) to 28.4% (mitotane) of patients,” the researchers wrote. “These results suggest that medical therapy can be considered a reasonable treatment alternative to the first-choice surgical treatment when regarding treatment effectiveness and side effects.” – by Regina Schaffer

For more information: Leonie H. A. Broersen, MD, can be reached at l.h.aA.broersen@lumc.nl.

Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.

From https://www.healio.com/endocrinology/neuroendocrinology/news/in-the-journals/%7B294187ce-3f5e-4d3f-b02e-5023515c3b0b%7D/medical-therapy-reasonable-option-vs-surgery-in-cushings-disease

Cushing’s Syndrome Eludes Treatment Paradigm or Standard Approach to Care

Results of two systematic reviews indicate that while surgery is the preferred treatment, many patients present with contraindications without an accepted management paradigm leaving clinicians to follow a patient-centric approach to care.

With commentary by Eliza B. Geer, MD

Cushing’s syndrome may arise from an endogenous glucocorticoid excess is either adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-dependent or ACTH-independent; each variation has numerous underlying causes, including pituitary tumor, adrenal tumor, or other unknown causes.

Although rare, ectopic Cushing’s syndrome results from a non-pituitary ACTH-producing source. Cushing’s disease, a type of Cushing’s syndrome, affects an estimated 1.2 to 2.4 million people each year, and is caused by an ACTH-secreting pituitary adenoma.1

While surgery is preferred for treatment of Cushing's syndrome many patients need a medical approach instead.

Gaining insights into treatment preferences and efficacy for Cushing’s syndrome were the focus of two separate systematic reviews and meta-analyses, both published in the journal, Pituitary: one regarding medical treatments for Cushing’s syndrome,2 and the other comparing endoscopic versus microscopic transsphenoidal surgery for Cushing’s disease.3

Assessing Medical Management of Cushing’s Syndrome

The meta-analysis examining medical care of individuals with Cushing’s syndrome encompassed 1520 total patients across 35 studies, most of whom had Cushing’s disease.2 However, only 2 of the 35 studies were randomized trials, highlighting the lack of and clear need for controlled clinical trials on medical therapies for Cushing’s syndrome.

Surgery is typically first-line treatment—whether transsphenoidal pituitary adenomectomy for Cushing’s disease,4 removal of the ACTH-producing tumor in ectopic Cushing’s syndrome or adrenalectomy in ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome.5

However, many patients require medical therapy owing to contraindications for surgery, for recurrent disease, or to control cortisol secretion prior to surgery or radiotherapy. Results of the meta-analysis reflected wide-ranging normalization of cortisol levels depending upon the agent used– from 35.7% for cabergoline to nearly 82% for mitotane in Cushing’s disease.2 Combination therapy (medications used either together or sequentially) was shown to increase effectiveness in normalizing cortisol levels.2

In an interview with EndocrineWeb, Eliza B. Geer, MD, medical director of the Multidisciplinary Pituitary and Skull Base Tumor Center at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, noted that most medical therapies for Cushing’s syndrome are used off-label (in the US), and thus may lack clinical trial efficacy and safety data; consequently, this review provides useful information for treatment selection. However, Dr. Geer said there was substantial diversity of treatments reviewed in this paper – including tumor-directed therapies, cortisol synthesis inhibitors, an adrenolytic therapy, and a receptor blocker, used alone or in combination.

Further, treatments used in the studies addressed a range of Cushing’s etiologies and reflected heterogeneous study designs (for example follow-up ranged from 2 weeks to 11.5 years).2  As such, she said, “findings provided by this review should be viewed in the context of a broader clinical understanding of Cushing’s treatment.”

Specifically, Dr. Geer said, “Dr. Broersen’s analysis found that efficacy of medical therapy was improved by prior radiotherapy. But we know that radiotherapy is recommended on an individualized basis in only a fraction of Cushing’s patients, depending on tumor behavior and treatment history. Also, the fact that mitotane was shown here to have the highest efficacy of all therapies does not make this the appropriate treatment for all, or even most, Cushing’s patients; mitotane is adrenolytic and has a high rate of significant adverse effects.”

Too Many Questions Persist, Necessitating Focus on Attaining Management Paradigm

Dr. Geer also highlighted the need for answers to basic questions when investigating Cushing’s treatments: How do we define ‘successful’ treatment? What goals of care can patients expect? Which cortisol measurements and cut-offs can be used? How do we define clinical remission—resolution of which symptoms and comorbidities? She said Cushing’s syndrome is one of the most challenging endocrine diseases to treat because of the lack of an accepted, universal treatment or management paradigm.

Treatment is often multimodal and always multidisciplinary, with patient-specific decision trees that must consider many factors, including goals of care, treatment history, disease etiology and severity, tumor behavior, and individual responses to medical therapies, she told EndocrineWeb.

She concluded, “While Broersen et al’s study provides a useful review of available medical therapies, it reinforces something we already know about the treatment of Cushing’s: Expertise is required.”

Pituitary surgery is first-line treatment for Cushing’s disease. Currently, there are two main techniques for transsphenoidal pituitary surgery: microscopic and endoscopic. The operating microscope provides three-dimensional vision and may be advantageous in identifying small tumors; the broader field of vision afforded by the endoscope may be advantageous for complete resection of large tumors.3  Generally, despite an absence of studies directly comparing relative remission and complication rates between microscopic versus endoscopic approaches, most surgical centers choose to use one or the other; few have both.3

Examining the Surgical Options to Manage Cushing’s Disease

The second systematic review is the first to compare remission and recurrence rates, and mortality after microscopic versus endoscopic transsphenoidal pituitary surgery for Cushing’s disease.3 The review included 97 studies of 6695 patients: 5711 individuals having the microscopic procedure and 984 undergoing endoscopic surgery.

Results of the meta-analysis found no clear difference between the two techniques in overall remission (80%) or recurrence (10%).3 Short-term mortality for both techniques was < 0.5%. However, endoscopic surgery was associated with a greater occurrence of cerebrospinal fluid leak (12.9 vs 4.0%) but a lesser occurrence of transient diabetes insipidus (11.3 vs 21.7%).3

The authors reported a higher percentage of patients in remission (76.3 vs. 59.9%) and lower percentage recurrence rates (1.5 vs 17.0%) among patients undergoing endoscopic surgery for macroadenomas.3

When interviewed regarding the second meta-analysis,3 Dr. Geer said that the potential benefit of endoscopy over microscopy has been questioned for ACTH-secreting tumors specifically since most are microadenomas.

“With the caveat that few studies (four of the 97 reviewed) compared techniques directly, Broersen et al3 found that endoscopic surgery was associated with higher remission rates compared to microscopic surgery for large tumors, but the two techniques were comparable for small tumors,” said Dr. Geer, however, “one limitation of these data is the lack of standardized criteria to define diagnosis and remission of Cushing’s among the studies reviewed.”

Need for Consistency in Clinical Trials and Surgical Expertise

The study investigators concluded, “endoscopic surgery for patients with Cushing’s disease reaches comparable results for microadenomas, and probably better results for macroadenomas than microscopic surgery,” despite the greater learning curve associated with endoscopic surgery.3 As such, based on their findings, the authors concluded that “endoscopic surgery may thus be considered the current standard of care. Microscopic surgery can be used based on neurosurgeon’s preference.” They did not respond to EndocrineWeb for a request for comment.

As more neurosurgeons receiving training with the endoscope, the preferred technique for pituitary surgery is changing. Dr. Geer said, “Broersen’s review provides reassurance that the newer endoscopic technique is at least equal to the microscope for microadenomas and may be preferred for macroadenomas.”

“However, [conclusions based on the systematic review] do not change our role as endocrinologists treating Cushing’s disease, which is to refer, when indicated, to the available neurosurgeon with the most favorable outcomes and lowest rate of complications, both of which depend directly on level of experience with the procedure and the instrument being used, whether endoscope or microscope,” she said.

The authors had no financial conflicts to declare.

From https://www.endocrineweb.com/professional/cushings/cushings-syndrome-eludes-treatment-paradigm-standard-approach-care

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