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.
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.
Lukas Engler, Christian Adolf, Daniel A Heinrich, Anna-Katharine Brem, Anna Riester, Anna Franke, Felix Beuschlein, Martin Reincke, Axel Steiger, and Heike Künzel
Primary aldosteronism is a natural model for chronic aldosterone excess in humans and associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression. Cognitive deficits are inherent to the symptomatology of depression and anxiety disorders. Mineralocorticoid receptors and aldosterone appear to play a role in memory. Aldosterone was additionally supposed to be a risk factor for cognitive decline in patients with essential hypertension. The objective of this study was to investigate possible effects of chronically high aldosterone concentrations on cognitive function. A range of cognitive dimensions were assessed in 19 patients (9 males, 10 females); mean age 47.1 (12.5) under standardized treatment and several rating scales for anxiety, depression, quality of life and sleep were administered. Cognitive parameters were compared to standard norms from a large, healthy standardization sample. Patients showed increased levels of anxiety and depression without meeting diagnostic criteria for a disorder. Besides a numerically lower attention score, patients did not show any significant differences in the cognitive dimensions. Anxiety and depression were negatively correlated with quantitative performance in males. In females, a negative correlation between sleep disturbances and abstract reasoning and a positive correlation with quantitative performance were found. Our data showed no specific effect of chronic aldosterone in the tested cognitive parameters overall at least in younger patients, but they indicate sexually dimorphic regulation processes.
Frans H H Leenen, Mordecai P Blaustein, and John M Hamlyn
In the brain, angiotensinergic pathways play a major role in chronic regulation of cardiovascular and electrolyte homeostasis. Increases in plasma angiotensin II (Ang II), aldosterone, [Na+] and cytokines can directly activate these pathways. Chronically, these stimuli also activate a slow neuromodulatory pathway involving local aldosterone, mineralocorticoid receptors (MRs), epithelial sodium channels and endogenous ouabain (EO). This pathway increases AT1R and NADPH oxidase subunits and maintains/further increases the activity of angiotensinergic pathways. These brain pathways not only increase the setpoint of sympathetic activity per se, but also enhance its effectiveness by increasing plasma EO and EO-dependent reprogramming of arterial and cardiac function. Blockade of any step in this slow pathway or of AT1R prevents Ang II-, aldosterone- or salt and renal injury-induced forms of hypertension. MR/AT1R activation in the CNS also contributes to the activation of sympathetic activity, the circulatory and cardiac RAAS and increase in circulating cytokines in HF post MI. Chronic central infusion of an aldosterone synthase inhibitor, MR blocker or AT1R blocker prevents a major part of the structural remodeling of the heart and the decrease in LV function post MI, indicating that MR activation in the CNS post MI depends on aldosterone, locally produced in the CNS. Thus, Ang II, aldosterone and EO are not simply circulating hormones that act on the CNS but rather they are also paracrine neurohormones, locally produced in the CNS, that exert powerful effects in key CNS pathways involved in the long-term control of sympathetic and neuro-endocrine function and cardiovascular homeostasis.
Anastasia P Athanasoulia-Kaspar, Matthias K Auer, Günter K Stalla, and Mira Jakovcevski
Patients with non-functioning pituitary adenomas exhibit high morbidity and mortality rates. Growth hormone deficiency and high doses of glucocorticoid substitution therapy have been identified as corresponding risk factors. Interestingly, high levels of endogenous cortisol in, e.g., patients with post-traumatic stress disorder or patients with Cushing’s disease have been linked to shorter telomere length. Telomeres are noncoding DNA regions located at the end of chromosomes consisting of repetitive DNA sequences which shorten with aging and hereby determine cell survival. Therefore, telomere length can serve as a predictor for the onset of disease and mortality in some endocrine disorders (e.g., Cushing’s disease).
Here, we examine telomere length from blood in patients (n = 115) with non-functioning pituitary adenomas (NFPA) in a cross-sectional case–control (n = 106, age-, gender-matched) study using qPCR. Linear regression models were used to identify independent predictors of telomere length.
We show that patients with NFPA exhibited shorter telomeres than controls. No significant association of indices of growth hormone deficiency (IGF-1-level-SDS, years of unsubstituted growth hormone deficiency etc.) with telomere length was detected. Interestingly, linear regression analysis showed that hydrocortisone replacement dosage in patients with adrenal insufficiency (n = 52) was a significant predictor for shorter telomere length (β = 0.377; P = 0.018) independent of potential confounders (gender, age, BMI, arterial hypertension, systolic blood pressure, number of antihypertensive drugs, total leukocyte count, waist-to-hip ratio, waist circumference, diabetes mellitus type 2, HbA1c, current statin use). Median split analysis revealed that higher hydrocortisone intake (>20 mg) was associated with significantly shorter telomeres.
These observations strengthen the importance of adjusted glucocorticoid treatment in NFPA patients with respect to morbidity and mortality rates.
Ida Staby, Jesper Krogh, Marianne Klose, Jonas Baekdal, Ulla Feldt-Rasmussen, Lars Poulsgaard, Jacob Bertram Springborg, and Mikkel Andreassen
Patients with pituitary adenomas undergoing transsphenoidal surgery require pre- and post-surgery examination of pituitary hormones. There is currently no consensus on how to evaluate the adrenal axis post-surgery. The aims of this study were to investigate factors that may predict postoperative adrenal insufficiency (AI) and to investigate the overall effect of transsphenoidal surgery on pituitary function.
One hundred and forty-three consecutive patients who had undergone transsphenoidal surgery for pituitary adenomas were included. Data on tumour size, pituitary function pre-surgery, plasma basal cortisol measured within 48 h post-surgery and pituitary function 6 months post-surgery were collected. Patients with AI prior to surgery, perioperative glucocorticoid treatment, Cushing’s disease and no re-evaluation after 1 month were excluded (n = 93) in the basal cortisol analysis.
Low plasma basal cortisol post-surgery, tumour size and previous pituitary surgery were predictors of AI (all P < 0.05). A basal cortisol cut-off concentration of 300 nmol/L predicted AI 6 months post-surgery with sensitivity and negative predictive value of 100%, specificity of 81% and positive predictive value of 25%. New gonadal, thyroid and adrenal axis insufficiencies accounted for 2, 10 and 10%, respectively. The corresponding recovery rates were 17, 7 and 24%, respectively
Transsphenoidal surgery had an overall beneficial effect on pituitary endocrine function. Low basal plasma cortisol measured within 48 h after surgery, tumour size and previous surgery were identified as risk factors for AI. Measurement of basal cortisol post-surgery may help to identify patients at risk of developing AI.
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.