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J Endocrinol Invest. 2005;28(5 Suppl):38-42.

The IGF system in childhood: physiology and clinical implications.

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Department of Pediatric Endocrinology, Universitad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain.


Our understanding of the IGF-I system has increased dramatically in recent yr due in part to the advances in molecular and cellular biology. Not only can we now measure circulating levels of the members of this axis in order to address the possibly pathophysiological changes, but genetic alterations can now be identified as the underlying cause of specific clinical situations. In normal children, circulating levels of IGF-I and the IGF binding proteins (IGFBPs) change throughout development and in some cases are gender dependent. Children and adolescents with a variety of illnesses and metabolic disorders have altered circulating IGF-I and IGFBP levels. Hence, in children or adolescents with exogenous obesity, anorexia nervosa, coeliac disease, leukaemia and other types of cancer, as well as in cases of GH deficiency, this axis can be altered. These data may help us to understand the physiology and pathophysiology of this system, but the clinical or diagnostic utility of these measurements is still largely debated. Indeed, in most of the above mentioned illnesses, circulating IGF and IGFBP levels overlap with normal values. Furthermore, these measurements do not provide data concerning levels of these factors at target tissues or of local synthesis and autocrine-paracrine effects. However, measurements of IGF-I and its binding proteins, as well as GH and its binding proteins, can help us to focus our analysis of patients suspected to have genetic abnormalities on the GH receptor, IGF-I, its receptor, IGFALS, or intracellular signalling proteins such as STAT5b or ERK. Possibly, the most clear clinical utility of circulating IGF-I measurements in children is in cases of GH deficiency or insensitivity or under GH treatment. However, the fact there are cases of children with non-detectable levels of circulating IGF-I that yet normal height and growth velocity, or with non-detectable levels of GH yet normal growth and IGF-I levels, raises many questions. Furthermore, circulating IGF-I levels may be within the normal control levels and the child may have a pathological growth pattern. Hence, just how useful are these measurements? Another clinically important question pertains to GH treatment in patients, such as in the Turner Syndrome, where supraphysiological levels of serum IGF-I are reached in order to induce growth. The interpretation and clinical utility of measurements of circulating IGF-I and its BPs are currently being widely discussed. As our knowledge of this system increases, with the identification of new members of this family and its intracellular mechanisms of action, as well as new genetic alterations in patients, the interpretation of laboratory results will also improve and help to better our diagnostic capability.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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