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Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1991 Feb;34(2):133-8.

High permanent plasma adrenaline levels: a marker of adrenal medullary disease in medullary thyroid carcinoma.

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  • 1Endocrinology Unit, Laboratory of Pharmacology, Hôpital de la Maison Blanche, Reims, France.


Increases in urinary, plasma and tumour adrenaline have been previously observed in MEN II patients with phaeochromocytoma. However, the sensitivity of adrenaline for early detection of adrenal medullary disease has not been accurately evaluated. Twenty-five patients with medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) histologically confirmed but without clinical or biological evidence of phaeochromocytoma have been studied. Medullary adrenal status was evaluated by adrenal CT-scan. MIBG scintigraphy, determination of urinary VMA, metanephrines and total catecholamine levels, measurement of nyctohemeral plasma adrenaline or noradrenaline concentrations (every 2 h during 24 h) and clonidine suppression test. Four of the 25 patients had evidence of adrenal medullary disease in view of the coexistence of CT-scan, MIBG scintigraphy and plasma adrenaline abnormalities. Moderate adrenal enlargement (unilateral, n = 3; bilateral, n = 1) was observed on scans together with a high adrenal MIBG uptake (bilateral, n = 4). Among the urinary parameters studied, a minor MN increase was observed in only one of the four patients. Plasma adrenaline levels were significantly (P less than 0.01) different from those of the other 21 patients (mean + SD 115 + 110 pmol/l). This plasma adrenaline increase is reproducible and not suppressed by clonidine. Unilateral adrenalectomy performed in one patient confirmed a phaeochromocytoma and induced normalization of plasma adrenaline levels. In contrast, the plasma noradrenaline levels of the four patients were not statistically different from those of the other 21 patients. These data suggest that persistent high plasma adrenaline levels may be selectively increased in MTC patients together with a moderate adrenal CT-scan enlargement and a high adrenal MIBG uptake, despite a normal urinary excretion of total catecholamines and catecholamines metabolites.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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