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J Endocrinol Invest. 2006 Nov;29(10):934-9.

A patient with recurrent hypercortisolism after removal of an ACTH-secreting pituitary adenoma due to an adrenal macronodule.

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  • 1Department of Endocrinology, Radboud University, Nijmegen Medical Center, PO box 9101, 6500 HB Nijmegen, The Netherlands. h.timmers@endo.umcn.nl


A 41-yr-old female was referred for signs and symptoms of Cushing's syndrome. Cortisol was not suppressed by 1 mg dexamethasone (0.41 micromol/l). Midnight cortisol and ACTH were 0.44 micromol/l and 18 pmol/l, respectively. Urinary cortisol excretion was 250 nmol/24 h (normal between 30 and 150 nmol/24 h). A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed a pituitary lesion of 7 mm. ACTH and cortisol levels were unaltered by administration of human CRH and high-dose dexamethasone. Inferior sinus petrosus sampling showed CRH-stimulated ACTH levels of 128.4 (left sinus) vs a peripheral level of 19.2 pmol/l, indicating Cushing's disease. After 4 months of pre-treatment with metyrapone and dexamethasone, endoscopic transsphenoidal resection of an ACTH-positive pituitary adenoma was performed. ACTH levels decreased to 2.6 pmol/l and fasting cortisol was 0.35 micromol/l. Despite clinical regression of Cushing's syndrome and normalization of urinary cortisol, cortisol was not suppressed by 1 mg dexamethasone (0.30 micromol/l). Ten months post-operatively, signs and symptoms of Cushing's syndrome reoccurred. A high dose dexamethasone test according to Liddle resulted in undetectable ACTH, but no suppression of cortisol levels, pointing towards adrenal-dependent Cushing's syndrome. Computed tomography (CT)-scanning showed a left-sided adrenal macronodule. Laparoscopic left adrenalectomy revealed a cortical macronodule (3.5 cm) surrounded by micronodular hyperplasia. Fasting cortisol had decreased to 0.02 micromol/l. Glucocorticoid suppletion was started and tapered over 12 months. Symptoms and signs of hypercortisolism gradually disappeared. This case illustrates, that longstanding ACTH stimulation by a pituitary adenoma can induce unilateral macronodular adrenal hyperplasia with autonomous cortisol production.

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