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Open access

Ailsa Maria Main, Maria Rossing, Line Borgwardt, Birgitte Grønkær Toft, Åse Krogh Rasmussen, and Ulla Feldt-Rasmussen

Phaeochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PPGLs) are tumours of the adrenal medulla and extra-adrenal sympathetic nervous system which often secrete catecholamines. Variants of the SDHX (SDHA, -AF2, -B, -C, -D) genes are a frequent cause of familial PPGLs. In this study from a single tertiary centre, we aimed to characterise the genotype–phenotype associations in patients diagnosed with germline variants in SDHX genes. We also assessed whether systematic screening of family members resulted in earlier detection of tumours. The study cohort comprised all individuals (n = 59) diagnosed with a rare variant in SDHX during a 13-year period. Patient- and pathology records were checked for clinical characteristics and histopathological findings. We found distinct differences in the clinical and histopathological characteristics between genetic variants in SDHB. We identified two SDHB variants with distinct phenotypical patterns. Family screening for SDHB variants resulted in earlier detection of tumours in two families. Patients with SDHA, SDHC and SDHD variants also had malignant phenotypes, underlining the necessity for a broad genetic screening of the proband. Our study corroborates previous findings of poor prognostic markers and found that the genetic variants and clinical phenotype are linked and, therefore, useful in the decision of clinical follow-up. Regular tumour screening of carriers of pathogenic variants may lead to an earlier diagnosis and expected better prognosis. The development of a combined algorithm with clinical, genetic, morphological, and biochemical factors may be the future for improved clinical risk stratification, forming a basis for larger multi-centre follow up studies.

Open access

Ivar Følling, Anna B Wennerstrøm, Tor J Eide, and Hilde Loge Nilsen


Phaeochromocytomas are tumours originating in the medulla of the adrenal gland. They produce catecholamines, and some tumours also produce ectopic hormones. Two types of glucose imbalances occur in phaeochromocytoma patients, hyperglycaemia and hypoglycaemic attacks. Therefore, we tested whether insulin transcript (INS), insulin, and a hybrid read-through transcript between exons from insulin and insulin-like growth factor 2 (INS-IGF2) were expressed in phaeochromocytomas.


We measured the expression of insulin using immunohistochemistry. The expression of INS-IGF2 was determined by qRT-PCR in formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded tissue from 20 phaeochromocytomas. The expression of INS and INS-IGF2 transcriptswas also analysed in 182 phaeochromocytomas and paragangliomas using publicly available datasets in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Database.


Of 20 phaeochromocytomas, 16 stained positive for insulin. The distribution of positive cells was mostly scattered, with some focal expression indicating clonal expansion. Nineteen tumours expressed high levels of INS and INS-IGF2 transcripts. The expression of the two transcripts corresponded closely. In the TCGA dataset, phaeochromocytoma expresses higher levels of INS and INS-IGF2 transcripts compared to the normal non-tumour adrenal glands. Thus, the expression of INS and INS-IGF2 seems to be a general phenomenon in phaeochromocytoma.


Most phaeochromocytomas contain cells that overexpress INS and INS-IGF2 transcripts. Most tumours also display heterogeneous expression of polypeptides immunoreactive to monoclonal anti-insulin antibodies. Clinically this may relate to both hyperglycaemia and hypoglycaemic attacks seen in patients with phaeochromocytoma as well as autocrine tumour growth.

Open access

Peter Ergang, Anna Mikulecká, Martin Vodicˇka, Karla Vagnerová, Ivan Mikšík, and Jirˇí Pácha

Stress is an important risk factors for human diseases. It activates the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and increases plasma glucocorticoids, which are powerful regulators of immune system. The response of the target cells to glucocorticoids depends not only on the plasma concentrations of cortisol and corticosterone but also on their local metabolism. This metabolism is catalyzed by 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenases type 1 and 2, which interconvert glucocorticoid hormones cortisol and corticosterone and their 11-oxo metabolites cortisone and 11-dehydrocorticosterone. The goal of this study was to determine whether stress modulates glucocorticoid metabolism within lymphoid organs – the structures where immune cells undergo development and activation. Using the resident-intruder paradigm, we studied the effect of social stress on glucocorticoid metabolism in primary and secondary lymphoid organs of Fisher 344 (F344) and Lewis (LEW) rats, which exhibit marked differences in their HPA axis response to social stressors and inflammation. We show that repeated social defeat increased the regeneration of corticosterone from 11-dehydrocorticosterone in the thymus, spleen and mesenteric lymphatic nodes (MLN). Compared with the F344 strain, LEW rats showed higher corticosterone regeneration in splenocytes of unstressed rats and in thymic and MLN mobile cells after stress but corticosterone regeneration in the stroma of all lymphoid organs was similar in both strains. Inactivation of corticosterone to 11-dehydrocorticosterone was found only in the stroma of lymphoid organs but not in mobile lymphoid cells and was not upregulated by stress. Together, our findings demonstrate the tissue- and strain-dependent regeneration of glucocorticoids following social stress.

Open access

Yiqiang Huang, Lin-ang Wang, Qiubo Xie, Jian Pang, Luofu Wang, Yuting Yi, Jun Zhang, Yao Zhang, Rongrong Chen, Weihua Lan, Dianzheng Zhang, and Jun Jiang

Pheochromocytoma and paragangliomas (PCC/PGL) are neuroendocrine tumors that arise from chromaffin cells of the adrenal medulla and sympathetic/parasympathetic ganglia, respectively. Of clinical relevance regarding diagnosis is the highly variable presentation of symptoms in PCC/PGL patients. To date, the clear-cut correlations between the genotypes and phenotypes of PCC/PGL have not been entirely established. In this study, we reviewed the medical records of PCC/PGL patients with pertinent clinical, laboratory and genetic information. Next-generation sequencing (NGS) performed on patient samples revealed specific germline mutations in the SDHB (succinate dehydrogenase complex iron-sulfur subunit B) and SDHD (succinate dehydrogenase complex subunit D) genes and these mutations were validated by Sanger sequencing. Of the 119 patients, two were identified with SDHB mutation and one with SDHD mutation. Immunohistochemical (IHC) staining was used to analyze the expression of these mutated genes. The germline mutations identified in the SDH genes were c343C>T and c.541-542A>G in the SDHB gene and c.334-337delACTG in the SDHD gene. IHC staining of tumors from the c.343C>T and c.541-2A>G carriers showed positive expression of SDHB. Tumors from the c.334-337delACTG carrier showed no expression of SDHD and a weak diffused staining pattern for SDHB. We strongly recommend genetic testing for suspected PCC/PGL patients with a positive family history, early onset of age, erratic hypertension, recurrence or multiple tumor sites and loss of SDHB and/or SDHD expression. Tailored personal management should be conducted once a patient is confirmed as an SDHB and/or SDHD mutation carrier or diagnosed with PCC/PGL.

Open access

Sirazum Choudhury, Tricia Tan, Katharine Lazarus, and Karim Meeran

The introduction of adrenocortical extract in 1930 improved the life expectancy of hyhpoadrenal patients, with further increases seen after the introduction of cortisone acetate from 1948. Most patients are now treated with synthetic hydrocortisone, and incremental advances have been made with optimisation of daily dosing and the introduction of multidose regimens. There remains a significant mortality gap between individuals with treated hypoadrenalism and the general population. It is unclear whether this gap is a result of glucocorticoid over-replacement, under-replacement or loss of the circadian and ultradian rhythm of cortisol secretion, with the risk of detrimental excess glucocorticoid exposure at later times in the day. The way forwards will involve replacement of the diurnal cortisol rhythm with better glucocorticoid replacement regimens. The steroid profile produced by both prednisolone and dual-release hydrocortisone (Plenadren), provide a smoother glucocorticoid profile of cortisol than standard oral multidose regimens of hydrocortisone and cortisone acetate. The individualisation of prednisolone doses and lower bioavailability of Plenadren offer reductions in total steroid exposure. Although there is emerging evidence of both treatments offering better cardiometabolic outcomes than standard glucocorticoid replacement regimens, there is a paucity of evidence involving very low dose prednisolone (2–4 mg daily) compared to the larger doses (~7.5 mg) historically used. Data from upcoming clinical studies on prednisolone will therefore be of key importance in informing future practice.

Open access

Marieke Stientje Velema, Aline de Nooijer, Ad R M M Hermus, Henri J L M Timmers, Jacques W M Lenders, Olga Husson, and Jaap Deinum


To develop a primary aldosteronism (PA) disease-specific Health-Related Quality of Life (HRQoL) questionnaire.


We included newly diagnosed patients with PA (n = 26), and patients with PA after adrenalectomy (n = 25) or treated with mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists (n = 25). According to the guidelines for developing HRQoL questionnaires from the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC): Phase I: systematic literature review followed by focus group meetings with patients (n = 13) resulting in a list of 94 HRQoL issues. Relevance of issues was rated by 18 other patients and by health care professionals (n = 15), resulting in 30 remaining issues. Phase II: selected issues were converted into questions. Phase III: the provisional questionnaire was pre-tested by a third group of patients (n = 45) who also completed the EORTC core Quality of Life questionnaire (QLQ-C30). Psychometric testing resulted in a final selection of questions with their scale structure.


After the collection and selection of HRQoL issues a provisional questionnaire consisting of 30 items was formed. Of these items, 26 could be assigned to one of the four scales ‘physical and mental fatigue’, ‘anxiety and stress’, ‘fluid balance’ and ‘other complaints’ cumulatively accounting for 68% of variation in all items. All scales had good reliability and validity. There was a significant correlation of all four scales with the QLQ-C30 in most cases.


We developed the first PA-specific HRQoL questionnaire (PA-QoL) using standard, methodologically proven guidelines. After completion of the final validation (phase IV, international field testing), the questionnaire can be implemented into clinical practice.

Open access

Yiyan Wang, Yaoyao Dong, Yinghui Fang, Yao Lv, Qiqi Zhu, Xiaoheng Li, Qingquan Lian, and Ren-Shan Ge

Glucocorticoid hormone might cause intrauterine growth restriction. The glucocorticoid-metabolizing enzyme 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase 2 (HSD11B2) in the placenta eliminates excess levels of glucocorticoids during pregnancy. The aim of the current study was to define the effects of diethylstilbestrol (DES) on HSD11B2 activity in the mammalian placentas and identify its mode of action. Rat and human placental microsomal HSD11B2 were incubated with different concentrations of DES, and IC50 values were determined. The mode of action was analyzed by incubation of DES together with substrates, glucocorticoid and NAD+. DES suppressed rat and human HSD11B2 with IC50 values of 5.33 and 12.62 μM, respectively. DES was a competitive inhibitor of rat and human HSD11B2 when steroid substrates were added, while it was an uncompetitive inhibitor when cofactor NAD+ was exposed. Oral administration of DES (0.5 mg/kg) to the rat delayed the cortisol metabolism in adult female Sprague–Dawley rats, as indicated by the increases in cortisol’s elimination half-life, maximum concentration and area under the curve. In conclusion, DES is a potent HSD11B2 inhibitor, possibly contributing to the intrauterine growth restriction.

Open access

Siphiwe N Dlamini, Zané Lombard, Lisa K Micklesfield, Nigel Crowther, Shane A Norris, Tracy Snyman, Andrew A Crawford, Brian R Walker, and Julia H Goedecke

Circulating glucocorticoids are associated with metabolic syndrome and related cardiometabolic risk factors in non-Africans. This study investigated these associations in Africans, whose metabolic phenotype reportedly differs from Europeans. Adiposity, blood pressure, glycaemia, insulin resistance, and lipid profile, were measured in 316 African men and 788 African women living in Soweto, Johannesburg. The 2009 harmonized criteria were used to define metabolic syndrome. Serum glucocorticoids were measured using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Cortisol was associated with greater odds presenting with metabolic syndrome (odds ratio (95% CI) =1.50 (1.04, 2.17) and higher systolic (beta coefficient, β (95% CI) =0.04 (0.01, 0.08)) and diastolic (0.05 (0.02, 0.09)) blood pressure, but higher HDL (0.10 (0.02, 0.19)) and lower LDL (−0.14 (−0.24, −0.03)) cholesterol concentrations, in the combined sample of men and women. In contrast, corticosterone was only associated with higher insulin sensitivity (Matsuda index; 0.22 (0.03, 0.41)), but this was not independent of BMI. Sex-specific associations were observed, such that both cortisol and corticosterone were associated with higher fasting glucose (standardized β (95% CI): 0.24 (0.12, 0.36) for cortisol and 0.12 (0.01, 0.23) for corticosterone) and HbA1c (0.13 (0.01, 0.25) for cortisol and 0.12 (0.01, 0.24) for corticosterone) in men only, but lower HbA1c (0.10 (−0.20, −0.01) for cortisol and −0.09 (−0.18, −0.03) for corticosterone) in women only. Our study reports for the first time that associations between circulating glucocorticoid concentrations and key cardiometabolic risk factors exhibit both glucocorticoid- and sex-specificity in Africans.

Open access

Sarah Zaheer, Kayla Meyer, Rebecca Easly, Omar Bayomy, Janet Leung, Andrew W. Koefoed, Mahyar Heydarpour, Roy Freeman, and Gail K. Adler

Glucocorticoid use is the most common cause of secondary osteoporosis. Poor skeletal health related to glucocorticoid use is thought to involve inhibition of the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway, a key pathway in osteoblastogenesis. Sclerostin, a peptide produced primarily by osteocytes, is an antagonist of the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway, raising the possibility that sclerostin is involved in glucocorticoids’ adverse effects on bone. The aim of this study was to determine whether an acute infusion of cosyntropin (i.e., ACTH [1-24]), which increases endogenous cortisol, increases serum sclerostin levels as compared to a placebo infusion. This study was performed using blood samples obtained from a previously published, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, cross-over study among healthy men and women who received infusions of placebo or cosyntropin after being supine and fasted overnight ( NCT02339506). A total of seventeen participants were analyzed. There was a strong correlation (R2 = 0.65, p < 0.0001) between the two baseline sclerostin measurements measured at the start of each visit, and men had a significantly higher average baseline sclerostin compared to women. As anticipated, cosyntropin significantly increased serum cortisol levels, whereas cortisol levels fell during placebo infusion, consistent with the diurnal variation in cortisol. There was no significant effect of cosyntropin as compared to placebo infusions on serum sclerostin over 6-24 hours (p = 0.10). In conclusion, this randomized, placebo-controlled study was unable to detect a significant effect of a cosyntropin infusion on serum sclerostin levels in healthy men and women.

Open access

Grethe Å Ueland, Thea Grinde, Paal Methlie, Oskar Kelp, Kristian Løvås, and Eystein S Husebye


Autonomous cortisol secretion (ACS) is a condition with ACTH-independent cortisol overproduction from adrenal incidentalomas (AI) or adrenal hyperplasia. The hypercortisolism is often mild, and most patients lack typical clinical features of overt Cushing’s syndrome (CS). ACS is not well defined and diagnostic tests lack validation.


Retrospective study of 165 patients with AI evaluated clinically and by assay of morning plasma ACTH, late-night saliva cortisol, serum DHEA sulphate (DHEAS), 24-h urine-free cortisol, and cortisol after dexamethasone suppression.


Patients with AI (n = 165) were diagnosed as non-functioning incidentalomas (NFI) (n = 82) or ACS (n = 83) according to current European guidelines. Late-night saliva cortisol discriminated poorly between NFI and ACS, showing a high rate of false-positive (23/63) and false-negative (38/69) results. The conventional low-dose dexamethasone suppression test (LDDST) did not improve the diagnostic specificity, compared with the 1 mg overnight DST. Receiver operating characteristic curve analysis of DHEAS in the two cohorts demonstrated an area under the curve of 0.76 (P < 0.01) with a sensitivity for ACS of 58% and a specificity of 80% using the recommended cutoff at 1.04 µmol/L (40 µg/dL).


We here demonstrate in a large retrospective cohort of incidentaloma patients, that neither DHEAS, late-night saliva cortisol nor 24-h urine free cortisol are useful to discriminate between non-functioning adrenal incidentalomas and ACS. The conventional LDDST do not add further information compared with the 1 mg overnight DST. Alternative biomarkers are needed to improve the diagnostic workup of ACS.