The melanocortin-2-receptor (MC2R), also known as the ACTH receptor, is a critical component of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. The importance of MC2R in adrenal physiology is exemplified by the condition familial glucocorticoid deficiency (FGD), a potentially fatal disease characterised by isolated cortisol deficiency. MC2R mutations cause ~25% of cases. The discovery of a MC2R accessory protein MRAP, mutations of which account for ~20% of FGD, has provided insight into MC2R trafficking and signalling. MRAP is a single transmembrane domain accessory protein highly expressed in the adrenal gland and essential for MC2R expression and function. Mouse models helped elucidate the action of ACTH. The Mc2r-knockout (Mc2r − / −) mice was the first mouse model developed to have adrenal insufficiency with deficiencies in glucocorticoid, mineralocorticoid and catecholamines. We recently reported the generation of the Mrap − / − mice which better mimics the human FGD phenotype with isolated glucocorticoid deficiency alone. The adrenal glands of adult Mrap − / − mice were grossly dysmorphic with a thickened capsule, deranged zonation and deranged WNT4/beta-catenin and sonic hedgehog (SHH) pathway signalling. Collectively, these mouse models of FGD highlight the importance of ACTH and MRAP in adrenal progenitor cell regulation, cortex maintenance and zonation.
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Tatiana V Novoselova, Peter J King, Leonardo Guasti, Louise A Metherell, Adrian J L Clark, and Li F Chan
Thomas Reinehr, Alexandra Kulle, Juliane Rothermel, Caroline Knop-Schmenn, Nina Lass, Christina Bosse, and Paul-Martin Holterhus
The underlying mechanisms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are not fully understood yet. The aim of the study was to get functional insights into the regulation of steroid hormones in PCOS by steroid metabolomics.
This is a longitudinal study of changes of steroid hormones in 40 obese girls aged 13–16 years (50% with PCOS) participating in a 1-year lifestyle intervention. Girls with and without PCOS were matched to age, BMI and change of weight status.
We measured progesterone, 17-hydroxyprogesterone, 17-hydroxyprogenolon, 11-deoxycorticosterone, 21-deoxycorticosterone, deoxycorticosterone, corticosterone, 11-deoxycortisol, cortisol, cortisone, androstenedione, testosterone, dehydroepiandrostendione-sulfate (DHEA-S), estrone and estradiol by LC–MS/MS steroid profiling at baseline and one year later.
At baseline, obese PCOS girls demonstrated significantly higher androstenedione and testosterone concentrations compared to obese girls without PCOS, whereas the other steroid hormones including glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, estrogens and precursors of androgens did not differ significantly. Weight loss in obese PCOS girls was associated with a significant decrease of testosterone, androstenedione, DHEA-S, cortisol and corticosterone concentrations. Weight loss in obese non-PCOS girls was associated with a significant decrease of DHEA-S, cortisol and corticosterone concentrations, whereas no significant changes of testosterone and androstenedione concentrations could be observed. Without weight loss, no significant changes of steroid hormones were measured except an increase of estradiol in obese PCOS girls without weight loss.
The key steroid hormones in obese adolescents with PCOS are androstenedione and testosterone, whereas glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, estrogens and precursors of androgens did not differ between obese girls with and without PCOS.
Henrik Falhammar, Magnus Kjellman, and Jan Calissendorff
With the increasing access to imaging more pheochromocytomas are diagnosed in the workup of adrenal incidentalomas. This may have changed the occurrence of the classic presentation with hypertension and the classic triad (headaches, sweating and palpitation).
We reviewed 94 consecutive cases of pheochromocytomas. Two cases of ectopic ACTH-syndrome were subsequently excluded.
Of the 92 cases included 64% had presented as an incidentaloma, 32% as a suspected pheochromocytoma and 4% had been screened because of previously diagnosed MEN2A. Those screened were youngest while those with incidentalomas were oldest. The females were more common in the incidentaloma and the screening groups, and males in the suspected pheochromocytoma group. Measurements of noradrenaline/normetanephrine levels were highest in the suspected pheocromocytoma group and lowest in the screening group. Hypertension was present in 63% of the incidentalomas, 79% of suspected pheochromocytomas and in none of the screening group. Paroxysmal symptoms were present in almost all with suspected pheochromocytoma while only in half of the other groups. The suspected pheocromocytoma group had most symptoms and the screening group least. The classic triad was present in 14% of the incidentalomas, in 28% of the suspected and in none of the screening group, while no symptoms at all was present in 12%, 0% and 25%, respectively. Pheochromocytoma crisis occurred in 5%. There was a positive correlation between tumor size vs hormone levels, and catecholamine levels vs blood pressure.
Clinicians need to be aware of the modern presentation of pheochromocytomas since early identification can be life-saving.
Fidéline Bonnet-Serrano, Maxime Barat, Anna Vaczlavik, Anne Jouinot, Lucas Bouys, Christelle Laguillier-Morizot, Corinne Zientek, Catherine Simonneau, Etienne Larger, Laurence Guignat, Lionel Groussin, Guillaume Assié, Jean Guibourdenche, Ioannis Nicolis, Marie-Claude Menet, and Jérôme Bertherat
Large response of steroid precursors, including 17-hydroxyprogesterone, to adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) has been described in adrenocortical tumors, suggesting the existence of intra-tumoral enzymatic deficiencies. This study aimed to compare steroidogenesis enzymes activity in unilateral and bilateral benign tumors using serum steroid profiling in liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) in the basal state and after ACTH 1-24 stimulation.
Design and methods
A serum profile of seven consecutive adrenal steroids was determined in LC-MS/MS in the basal state (T0) and after ACTH 1-24 stimulation (T60) in 35 patients with bilateral adrenocortical tumors (BL), 38 patients with unilateral tumors (UL) and 37 control subjects (CT). Response amplitude of each individual steroid was evaluated by T60/T0 ratio, whereas enzymatic activity was assessed by the downstream/upstream steroid ratio. Adrenal volume was quantified by a semi-automatic segmentation method.
For the seven steroids assayed, the amplitude of response to ACTH was higher in BL than in UL and in CT. The difference between BL and UL persisted even after matching patients on adrenal volume. On glucocorticoids pathway, enzymatic activity of CYP11B1 was significantly decreased in BL (78.3 (43.1-199.4)) in comparison to both UL (122.7 (13.8-228.4), P = 0.0002) and CT (186.8 (42.1-1236.3), P < 0.0001). On mineralocorticoids and androgens pathways, the enzymatic activity of CYP11B2 and CYP17A1-17,20 lyase was also lower in BL than UL and CT.
Decreased activity of distal steroidogenesis enzymes CYP11B1, CYP11B2 and CYP17A1-17,20 lyase, responsible for an explosive response to ACTH of upstream precursors in bilateral tumors, limits the synthesis of bioactive steroids, in particular cortisol, despite the increase in adrenal mass.
Activity of distal steroidogenesis enzymes (CYP11B1, CYP11B2 and CYP17A1 on glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids and androgens pathways, respectively) is decreased in adrenocortical benign tumors. This decrease is more pronounced in bilateral lesions and seems to depend more on the nature of the lesion than on the increase in adrenal volume. It is responsible for the explosive response to ACTH of steroid precursors located upstream of these enzymes. It probably allows bioactive steroids, particularly cortisol, to stay in the normal range for a long time despite the increase in adrenal mass.
Aneta Gawlik, Michael Shmoish, Michaela F Hartmann, Stefan A Wudy, Zbigniew Olczak, Katarzyna Gruszczynska, and Ze’ev Hochberg
Analysis of steroids by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) defines a subject’s steroidal fingerprint. Here, we compare the steroidal fingerprints of obese children with or without liver disease to identify the ‘steroid metabolomic signature’ of childhood nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Urinary samples of 85 children aged 8.5–18.0 years with BMI >97% were quantified for 31 steroid metabolites by GC-MS. The fingerprints of 21 children with liver disease (L1) as assessed by sonographic steatosis (L1L), elevated alanine aminotransferases (L1A) or both (L1AL), were compared to 64 children without markers of liver disease (L0). The steroidal signature of the liver disease was generated as the difference in profiles of L1 against L0 groups.
L1 comparing to L0 presented higher fasting triglycerides (P = 0.004), insulin (P = 0.002), INS/GLU (P = 0.003), HOMA-IR (P = 0.002), GGTP (P = 0.006), AST/SGOT (P = 0.002), postprandial glucose (P = 0.001) and insulin (P = 0.011). L1AL showed highest level of T-cholesterol and triglycerides (P = 0.029; P = 0.044). Fasting insulin, postprandial glucose, INS/GLU and HOMA-IR were highest in L1L and L1AL (P = 0.001; P = 0.017; P = 0.001; P = 0.001). The liver disease steroidal signature was marked by lower DHEA and its metabolites, higher glucocorticoids (mostly tetrahydrocortisone) and lower mineralocorticoid metabolites than L0. L1 patients showed higher 5α-reductase and 21-hydroxylase activity (the highest in L1A and L1AL) and lower activity of 11βHSD1 than L0 (P = 0.041, P = 0.009, P = 0.019).
The ‘steroid metabolomic signature’ of liver disease in childhood obesity provides a new approach to the diagnosis and further understanding of its metabolic consequences. It reflects the derangements of steroid metabolism in NAFLD that includes enhanced glucocorticoids and deranged androgens and mineralocorticoids.
Anne-Sophie C A M Koning, Philippe C Habets, Marit Bogaards, Jan Kroon, Hanneke M van Santen, Judith M de Bont, and Onno C Meijer
Synthetic glucocorticoids like dexamethasone can cause severe neuropsychiatric effects. They preferentially bind to the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) over the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR). High dosages result in strong GR activation but likely also result in lower MR activation based on GR-mediated negative feedback on cortisol levels. Therefore, reduced MR activity may contribute to dexamethasone-induced neuropsychiatric symptoms.
In this single case study, we evaluate whether dexamethasone leads to reduced MR activation in the human brain. Brain tissue of an 8-year-old brain tumor patient was used, who suffered chronically from dexamethasone-induced neuropsychiatric symptoms and deceased only hours after a high dose of dexamethasone.
Main outcome measures
The efficacy of dexamethasone to induce MR activity was determined in HEK293T cells using a reporter construct. Subcellular localization of GR and MR was assessed in paraffin-embedded hippocampal tissue from the patient and two controls. In hippocampal tissue from the patient and eight controls, mRNA of MR/GR target genes was measured.
In vitro, dexamethasone stimulated MR with low efficacy and low potency. Immunofluorescence showed the presence of both GR and MR in the hippocampal cell nuclei after dexamethasone exposure. The putative MR target gene JDP2 was consistently expressed at relatively low levels in the dexamethasone-treated brain samples. Gene expression showed substantial variation in MR/GR target gene expression in two different hippocampus tissue blocks from the same patient.
Dexamethasone may induce MR nuclear translocation in the human brain. Conclusions on in vivo effects on gene expression in the brain await the availability of more tissue of dexamethasone-treated patients.
Heike Hoyer-Kuhn, Angela Huebner, Anette Richter-Unruh, Markus Bettendorf, Tilman Rohrer, Klaus Kapelari, Stefan Riedl, Klaus Mohnike, Helmuth-Günther Dörr, Friedrich-Wilhelm Roehl, Katharina Fink, Reinhard W Holl, and Joachim Woelfle
Treatment of classic congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is necessary to compensate for glucocorticoid/mineralocorticoid deficiencies and to suppress androgen excess. Hydrocortisone (HC) is preferred in growing children with classic CAH but recommendations regarding dosage/administration are inconsistent. The aim of this study was to evaluate HC dosing in children with CAH in relation to chronological age, sex, and phenotype based on a multicenter CAH registry.
The CAH registry was initiated in 1997 by the AQUAPE in Germany. On December 31st 2018, data from 1571 patients were included.
A custom-made electronic health record software is used at the participating centers. Pseudonymized data are transferred for central analysis. Parameters were selected based on current guidelines. Descriptive analyses and linear regression models were implemented with SAS 9.4.
We identified 1288 patients on exclusive treatment with hydrocortisone three times daily (604 boys; median age 7.2 years; 817 salt-wasting phenotype, 471 simple-virilizing phenotype). The mean (lower-upper quartiles) daily HC dose (mg/m² body surface area) was 19.4 (18.9–19.8) for patients <3 months (n = 329), 15.0 (14.6–15.3) for age ≥3–12 months (n = 463), 14.0 (13.7–14.3) for age 1–5.9 years (n = 745), 14.2 (14.0–14.5) for age 6 years to puberty entry (n = 669), and 14.9 (14.6–15.2) during puberty to 18 years (n = 801). Fludrocortisone was administered in 74.1% of patients with a median daily dosage of 88.8 µg.
Our analyses showed that still a high proportion of children are treated with HC doses higher than recommended. This evaluation provides comprehensive information on nationwide hydrocortisone substitution dosages in children with CAH underlining the benefit of systematic data within a registry to assess daily practice.
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.
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.
Avinaash Maharaj, Ruth Kwong, Jack Williams, Christopher Smith, Helen Storr, Ruth Krone, Debora Braslavsky, Maria Clemente, Nanik Ram, Indraneel Banerjee, Semra Çetinkaya, Federica Buonocore, Tülay Güran, John C Achermann, Louise Metherell, and Rathi Prasad
Sphingosine-1-phosphate lyase (SGPL1) insufficiency syndrome (SPLIS) is an autosomal recessive multi-system disorder, which mainly incorporates steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome and primary adrenal insufficiency. Other variable endocrine manifestations are described. In this study, we aimed to comprehensively annotate the endocrinopathies associated with pathogenic SGPL1 variants and assess for genotype–phenotype correlations by retrospectively reviewing the reports of endocrine disease within our patient cohort and all published cases in the wider literature up to February 2022. Glucocorticoid insufficiency in early childhood is the most common endocrine manifestation affecting 64% of the 50 patients reported with SPLIS, and a third of these individuals have additional mineralocorticoid deficiency. While most individuals also have nephrotic syndrome, SGPL1 variants also account for isolated adrenal insufficiency at presentation. Primary gonadal insufficiency, manifesting with microphallus and cryptorchidism, is reported in less than one-third of affected boys, all with concomitant adrenal disease. Mild primary hypothyroidism affects approximately a third of patients. There is paucity of data on the impact of SGPL1 deficiency on growth, and pubertal development, limited by the early and high mortality rate (approximately 50%). There is no clear genotype–phenotype correlation overall in the syndrome, with variable disease penetrance within individual kindreds. However, with regards to endocrine phenotype, the most prevalent disease variant p.R222Q (affecting 22%) is most consistently associated with isolated glucocorticoid deficiency.To conclude, SPLIS is associated with significant multiple endocrine disorders. While endocrinopathy in the syndrome generally presents in infancy, late-onset disease also occurs. Screening for these is therefore warranted both at diagnosis and through follow-up.