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Open access

Gavin P Vinson and Caroline H Brennan

Substantial evidence shows that the hypophyseal–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and corticosteroids are involved in the process of addiction to a variety of agents, and the adrenal cortex has a key role. In general, plasma concentrations of cortisol (or corticosterone in rats or mice) increase on drug withdrawal in a manner that suggests correlation with the behavioural and symptomatic sequelae both in man and in experimental animals. Corticosteroid levels fall back to normal values in resumption of drug intake. The possible interactions between brain corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) and proopiomelanocortin (POMC) products and the systemic HPA, and additionally with the local CRH–POMC system in the adrenal gland itself, are complex. Nevertheless, the evidence increasingly suggests that all may be interlinked and that CRH in the brain and brain POMC products interact with the blood-borne HPA directly or indirectly. Corticosteroids themselves are known to affect mood profoundly and may themselves be addictive. Additionally, there is a heightened susceptibility for addicted subjects to relapse in conditions that are associated with change in HPA activity, such as in stress, or at different times of the day. Recent studies give compelling evidence that a significant part of the array of addictive symptoms is directly attributable to the secretory activity of the adrenal cortex and the actions of corticosteroids. Additionally, sex differences in addiction may also be attributable to adrenocortical function: in humans, males may be protected through higher secretion of DHEA (and DHEAS), and in rats, females may be more susceptible because of higher corticosterone secretion.

Open access

Ferdinand Roelfsema, Peter Y Liu, Rebecca Yang, Paul Takahashi, and Johannes D Veldhuis

Background:

Interleukin-2 (IL-2), one of the proinflammatory cytokines, is used in the treatment of certain malignancies. In some studies, transient increases in cortisol and ACTH secretion occurred. Thus, this agent may be used as an experimental probe of adrenal cortisol secretion.

Objective:

This study quantifies the effects of low and moderate doses of IL-2 on cortisol secretion and assesses the modulation by age, dose and body composition.

Site:

Mayo Clinical Translational Research Unit.

Subjects:

Study comprised 35 healthy men, 17 young and 18 older.

Methods:

Randomized prospective double-blind saline-controlled study of IL-2 administration in two doses with concurrent 10-min blood sampling for 24 h.

Outcome measures:

Deconvolution analysis and approximate entropy of cortisol secretion.

Results:

Low-dose IL-2 administration increased nocturnal pulsatile cortisol secretion from 1460 ± 160 to 2120 ± 220 nmol/L/8 h in young subjects and from 1680 ± 105 to 1960 ± 125 nmol/L/8 h (treatment P < 0.0001, but more in young than older, P = 0.02). Comparable results were obtained for total cortisol secretion (P treatment <0.0001, age effect P = 0.005). The higher IL-2 dose caused a large increase in young (P < 0.0001), but not in older (P = 0.90) subjects. This dose also increased approximate entropy from 0.877 ± 0.041 to 1.024 ± 0.049 (P = 0.008), pointing to reduced secretory orderliness. Incremental cortisol (nocturnal) secretion correlated negatively with visceral fat mass (R = −0.41, P = 0.019).

Conclusion:

In healthy men, IL-2 injection drives pulsatile cortisol secretion in a dose-dependent way in young, but not older, individuals and erodes cortisol secretory orderliness at a higher dose in young subjects. Cortisol responses are diminished with increasing abdominal visceral fat mass.

Open access

Filippo Ceccato, Elisa Selmin, Chiara Sabbadin, Miriam Dalla Costa, Giorgia Antonelli, Mario Plebani, Mattia Barbot, Corrado Betterle, Marco Boscaro, and Carla Scaroni

Introduction and Aim

The purpose of replacement therapy in adrenal insufficiency (AI) is mimicking endogenous cortisol levels as closely as possible: dual release hydrocortisone (DR-HC) has been introduced to replicate the circadian cortisol rhythm. Multiple daily saliva collections could be used to assess the cortisol rhythm during real life: our aim was to study the salivary cortisol profile in AI.

Materials and Methods

We prospectively evaluated, in an observational study, 18 adult outpatients with AI (11 primary and 7 secondary AI), switched from conventional treatment (conv-HC, 25 mg/day) to the same dose of DR-HC. We collected six samples of saliva in a day, measuring cortisol (F) and cortisone (E) with LC-MS/MS. Forty-three matched healthy subjects served as controls.

Results

F levels were similar in the morning (and higher than controls) in patients treated with conv-HC or DR-HC; otherwise F levels and exposure were lower in the afternoon and evening in patients with DR-HC, achieving a cortisol profile closer to healthy controls. Daily cortisol exposure, measured with area under the curve, was lower with DR-HC. Morning F and E presented sensitivity and specificity >90% to diagnose AI (respectively threshold of 3 and 9.45 nmol/L). Total cholesterol and HbA1c levels reduced with DR-HC.

Conclusions

Salivary cortisol daily curve could be used as a new tool to assess the cortisol profiles in patients treated with conv-HC and DR-HC. A lower daily cortisol exposure was achieved with DR-HC (despite the same HC dose), especially in the afternoon-evening.

Open access

Marcus Quinkler, Bertil Ekman, Claudio Marelli, Sharif Uddin, Pierre Zelissen, Robert D Murray, and on behalf of the EU-AIR Investigators

Objective

Prednisolone is used as glucocorticoid replacement therapy for adrenal insufficiency (AI). Recent data indicate that its use in AI is associated with low bone mineral density. Data on risk factors for cardiovascular disease in patients with AI treated with prednisolone are scarce, despite this condition being the predominant cause of excess mortality. We aimed to address this question using real-world data from the European Adrenal Insufficiency Registry (EU-AIR).

Design/methods

EU-AIR, comprising of 19 centres across Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, commenced enrolling patients with AI in August 2012. Patients receiving prednisolone (3–6 mg/day, n = 50) or hydrocortisone (15–30 mg/day, n = 909) were identified and grouped at a ratio of 1:3 (prednisolone:hydrocortisone) by matching for gender, age, duration and type of disease. Data from baseline and follow-up visits were analysed. Data from patients with congenital adrenal hyperplasia were excluded.

Results

Significantly higher mean ± s.d. total (6.3 ± 1.6 vs 5.4 ± 1.1 mmol/L; P = 0.003) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels (3.9 ± 1.4 vs 3.2 ± 1.0 mmol/L; P = 0.013) were identified in 47 patients on prednisolone vs 141 receiving hydrocortisone at baseline and at follow-up (P = 0.005 and P = 0.006, respectively). HbA1c, high-density lipoprotein and triglyceride levels, body mass index, systolic and diastolic blood pressure and waist circumference were not significantly different.

Conclusions

This is the first matched analysis of its kind. Significantly higher LDL levels in patients receiving prednisolone relative to hydrocortisone could predict a higher relative risk of cardiovascular disease in the former group.

Open access

Britt J van Keulen, Conor V Dolan, Bibian van der Voorn, Ruth Andrew, Brian R Walker, Hilleke Hulshoff Pol, Dorret I Boomsma, Joost Rotteveel, and Martijn J J Finken

Objective

Sex differences in disease susceptibility might be explained by sexual dimorphism in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, which has been postulated to emerge during puberty. However, studies conducted thus far lacked an assessment of Tanner pubertal stage. This study aimed to assess the contribution of pubertal development to sexual dimorphism in cortisol production and metabolism.

Methods

Participants (n = 218) were enrolled from a population-based Netherlands Twin Register. At the ages of 9, 12 and 17 years, Tanner pubertal stage was assessed and early morning urine samples were collected. Cortisol metabolites were measured with GC-MS/MS and ratios were calculated, representing cortisol metabolism enzyme activities, such as A-ring reductases, 11β-HSDs and CYP3A4. Cortisol production and metabolism parameters were compared between sexes for pre-pubertal (Tanner stage 1), early pubertal (Tanner stage 2–3) and late-pubertal (Tanner stage 4–5) stages.

Results

Cortisol metabolite excretion rate decreased with pubertal maturation in both sexes, but did not significantly differ between sexes at any pubertal stage, although in girls a considerable decrease was observed between early and late-pubertal stage (P < 0.001). A-ring reductase activity was similar between sexes at pre- and early pubertal stages and was lower in girls than in boys at late-pubertal stage. Activities of 11β-HSDs were similar between sexes at pre-pubertal stage and favored cortisone in girls at early and late-pubertal stages. Cytochrome P450 3A4 activity did not differ between sexes.

Conclusions

Prepubertally, sexes were similar in cortisol parameters. During puberty, as compared to boys, in girls the activities of A-ring reductases declined and the balance between 11β-HSDs progressively favored cortisone. In addition, girls showed a considerable decrease in cortisol metabolite excretion rate between early and late-pubertal stages. Our findings suggest that the sexual dimorphism in cortisol may either be explained by rising concentrations of sex steroids or by puberty-induced changes in body composition.

Open access

Marloes L P Langelaan, Jérôme M H Kisters, Mirjam M Oosterwerff, and Arjen-Kars Boer

Saliva as a diagnostic tool is patient friendly and offers analytical advantages. Hormonal analysis of saliva is not influenced by changes in concentrations of binding globulins as the free concentration of the hormones is measured. Analysis of salivary cortisol is common practice in the diagnostic work-up of hypercortisolism. We investigated the potential role of measuring salivary cortisol when adrenal insufficiency (AI) is suspected, to reduce the numbers of ACTH stimulation tests. Over a period of 6 years, patients undergoing an ACTH stimulation test (tetracosactide, 250 µg) in our hospital were included. Plasma cortisol (Elecsys, Cobas, Roche Diagnostics) and salivary cortisol and cortisone (LC–MS/MS) were determined at t = 0, 30 and 60 min after stimulation. Based on peak plasma cortisol levels, AI was ruled out in 113 patients and was established in 16 patients. Patients without AI displayed maximal salivary cortisol concentrations of 12.6–123.4 nmol/L (95th percentile) after stimulation, as opposed to 0.5–15.2 nmol/L in AI patients. At t = 0 min, a minimal salivary cortisol concentration of 1.0 nmol/L was observed in patients without AI, whereas AI patients had a maximum concentration of 5.9 nmol/L. Using these cut-off values, 34% of the initial patient group could be diagnosed without an ACTH stimulation test (28% >5.9 nmol/L, 6% <1.0 nmol/L). A novel diagnostic algorithm, including early morning salivary cortisol analysis can reduce the numbers of ACTH stimulation tests in patients suspected of AI. This patient-friendly method can thereby reduce total health care costs.

Open access

Dorte Glintborg, Magda Lambaa Altinok, Pernille Ravn, Kurt Bjerregaard Stage, Kurt Højlund, and Marianne Andersen

Background/aims

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is associated with insulin resistance, adrenal hyperactivity and decreased mental health. We aimed to investigate the changes in adrenal activity, metabolic status and mental health in PCOS during treatment with escitalopram or placebo.

Methods

Forty-two overweight premenopausal women with PCOS and no clinical depression were randomized to 12-week SSRI (20 mg escitalopram/day, n = 21) or placebo (n = 21). Patients underwent clinical examination, fasting blood samples, adrenocorticotroph hormone (ACTH) test, 3-h oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) and filled in questionnaires regarding mental health and health-related quality of life (HRQoL): WHO Well-Being Index (WHO-5), Major Depression Inventory (MDI), Short Form 36 (SF-36) and PCOS questionnaire.

Results

Included women were aged 31 (6) years (mean (s.d.)) and had body mass index (BMI) 35.8 (6.5) kg/m2 and waist 102 (12) cm. Escitalopram was associated with increased waist (median (quartiles) change 1 (0; 3) cm), P = 0.005 vs change during placebo and increased cortisol levels (cortisol 0, cortisol 60, peak cortisol and area under the curve for cortisol during ACTH test), all P< 0.05 vs changes during placebo. Escitalopram had no significant effect on measures of insulin sensitivity, insulin secretion, fasting lipids, mental health or HRQoL.

Conclusion

Waist circumference and cortisol levels increased during treatment with escitalopram in women with PCOS and no clinical depression, whereas metabolic risk markers, mental health and HRQol were unchanged.

Open access

Gamze Akkuş, Isa Burak Güney, Fesih Ok, Mehtap Evran, Volkan Izol, Şeyda Erdoğan, Yıldırım Bayazıt, Murat Sert, and Tamer Tetiker

Background

The management of adrenal incidentaloma is still a challenge with respect to determining its functionality (hormone secretion) and malignancy. In this light, we performed 18F-FDG PET/CT scan to assess the SUVmax values in different adrenal masses including Cushing syndrome, pheochromocytoma, primary hyperaldosteronism and non-functional adrenal adenomas.

Methods

Total 109 (73 F, 36 M) patients with adrenal mass (incidentaloma), mean age of 53.3 ± 10.2 years (range, 24–70) were screened by 18F-FDG PET/CT. Data of 18F-FDG PET/CT imaging of the patients were assessed by the same specialist. Adrenal masses were identified according to the calculated standardized uptake values (SUVs). Clinical examination, 24-h urine cortisol, catecholamine metabolites, 1-mg dexamethasone suppression test, aldosterone/renin ratio and serum electrolytes were analyzed.

Results

Based on the clinical and hormonal evaluations, there were 100 patients with non-functional adrenal mass, four with cortisol-secreting, four with pheochromocytomas and one with aldosterone-secreting adenoma. Mean adrenal mass diameter of 109 patients was 2.1 ± 4.3 (range, 1–6.5 cm). The 18F-FDG PET/CT imaging of the patients revealed that lower SUVmax values were found in non-functional adrenal masses (SUVmax 3.2) when compared to the functional adrenal masses including four with cortisol-secreting adenoma (SUVmax 10.1); four with pheochromcytoma (SUVmax 8.7) and one with aldosterone-secreting adenomas (SUVmax 3.30). Cortisol-secreting (Cushing syndrome) adrenal masses showed the highest SUVmax value (10.1), and a cut-off SUVmax of 4.135 was found with an 84.6% sensitivity and 75.6% specificity cortisol-secreting adrenal adenoma.

Conclusions

Consistent with the similar studies, non-functional adrenal adenomas typically do not show increased FDG uptake and a certain form of functional adenoma could present various FDG uptake in FDG PET/CT. Especially functional adrenal adenomas (cortisol secreting was the highest) showed increased FDG uptake in comparison to the non-functional adrenal masses. Therefore, setting a specific SUVmax value in the differentiation of malignant adrenal lesion from the benign one is risky and further studies, including a high number of functional adrenal mass are needed.

Open access

Kristin Viste, Marianne A Grytaas, Melissa D Jørstad, Dag E Jøssang, Eivind N Høyden, Solveig S Fotland, Dag K Jensen, Kristian Løvås, Hrafnkell Thordarson, Bjørg Almås, and Gunnar Mellgren

Primary aldosteronism (PA) is a common cause of secondary hypertension and is caused by unilateral or bilateral adrenal disease. Treatment options depend on whether the disease is lateralized or not, which is preferably evaluated with selective adrenal venous sampling (AVS). This procedure is technically challenging, and obtaining representative samples from the adrenal veins can prove difficult. Unsuccessful AVS procedures often require reexamination. Analysis of cortisol during the procedure may enhance the success rate. We invited 21 consecutive patients to participate in a study with intra-procedural point of care cortisol analysis. When this assay showed nonrepresentative sampling, new samples were drawn after redirection of the catheter. The study patients were compared using the 21 previous procedures. The intra-procedural cortisol assay increased the success rate from 10/21 patients in the historical cohort to 17/21 patients in the study group. In four of the 17 successful procedures, repeated samples needed to be drawn. Successful sampling at first attempt improved from the first seven to the last seven study patients. Point of care cortisol analysis during AVS improves success rate and reduces the need for reexaminations, in accordance with previous studies. Successful AVS is crucial when deciding which patients with PA will benefit from surgical treatment.

Open access

Kamran Iqbal, Kate Halsby, Robert D Murray, Paul V Carroll, and Robert Petermann

Background and objectives

Glucocorticoids are used to manage adrenal insufficiency (AI). We describe treatments used in the United Kingdom and real-world clinical outcomes for each treatment.

Methods

We used 2010–2016 primary care data from The Health Improvement Network (THIN). Descriptive analyses were conducted, and differences in variables between patients prescribed immediate-release hydrocortisone (IR HC), prednisolone or modified-release hydrocortisone (MR HC) were assessed using Fisher’s exact test.

Results

Overall, 2648 patients were included: 1912 on IR HC (72%), 691 on prednisolone (26%) and 45 (2%) on MR HC. A total of 1174 (44.3%) had primary and 1150 (43.4%) had secondary AI. Patients on prednisolone were older (P < 0.001) and had a greater history of smoking (292/691, P < 0.001) and CVD (275/691, P < 0.001). Patients on MR HC had more PCOS (3/45, P = 0.001) and diabetes (27/45, P = 0.004). The number of GP visits/patient/year was 6.50 in IR HC, 9.54 in prednisolone and 9.11 in MR HC cohorts. The mean number of A&E visits and inpatient and outpatient hospital admissions ranged from 0.42 to 0.93 visits/patient/year. The mean number of adrenal crises/patient/year was between 0.02 and 0.03 for all cohorts.

Conclusion

IR HC is most commonly used for the management of AI in the United Kingdom, followed by prednisolone. Few patients receive MR HC. The prednisolone and MR HC cohorts displayed a greater prevalence of vascular risk factors compared with IR HC. The occurrence of AC and primary and secondary resource use were similar between treatment cohorts, and they indicate significant resource utilisation. Improved treatment and management of patients with AI is needed.