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A case of ectopic ACTH syndrome treated with intermittent administration of dopamine agonists

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      ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome includes Cushing's disease and ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS). The differential diagnosis of Cushing's disease from EAS in cases of ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome is a challenging problem. We report here a case of EAS with an unknown source of ACTH secretion. Extensive imaging procedures, involving computed tomography (neck to pelvis), pituitary magnetic resonance imaging, and whole-body 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography, failed to reveal the source of ACTH secretion. Intermittent administration of bromocriptine, a short-acting and nonselective dopamine agonist, has afforded adequate suppression of plasma ACTH and cortisol levels over the long term.

      Learning points

      • Tumor excision is the primary treatment for EAS. However, when surgery is impossible, medical therapy is needed to treat hypercortisolism.

      • In cases where the source of ACTH secretion is unknown, inhibitors of steroidogenesis, such as metyrapone, mitotane, ketoconazole, and etomidate, are mostly used to suppress cortisol secretion.

      • Medications that suppress ACTH secretion are less effective, therefore less popular, as standard treatments.

      • In the present case, short-term treatment with dopamine agonists was effective for the long-term suppression of both ACTH and cortisol levels.

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      Most cited references 10

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      Ectopic ACTH syndrome: our experience with 25 cases.

      Ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS) occurs in about 5-10% of all patients with ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism with most of them caused by intrathoracic neoplasms. It may be associated with overt malignancies or with occult and indolent tumors. We assessed the accuracy of dynamic tests, inferior petrosal sinus sampling (IPSS) using desmopressin, and imaging in the work-up diagnosis of EAS. Tumor markers, imaging, and outcome data from 25 patients (13F/12M) aged 18-72 years. High dexamethasone suppression test (HDDST), desmopressin test, GHRP-6 test, corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) test, IPSS, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and (111)In-pentetreotide scintigraphy were revised. In 5 out of 20 patients HDDST was positive. In 13 patients who underwent desmopressin test, ACTH- and cortisol-positive responses were seen in six and five patients respectively. GHRP-6 test was positive in two out of three cases. Two patients underwent CRH test with negative response. In the seven patients submitted to IPSS using desmopressin in six of them, none had ACTH gradients. CT was positive in 15 out of 21 patients and MRI in 8 out of 17 cases. (111)In-pentetreotide scintigraphy was positive in three out of five patients. Fourteen patients had intrathoracic tumors, five had pheochromocytomas, three had pancreatic tumors, one had a glomic tumor, and had three occult tumors. Six out of 11 patients with metastasis died and 3 others without metastasis died. IPSS with desmopressin was helpful for differential diagnosis. Patients initially harboring occult carcinoids may also exhibit severe hypercortisolism and those harboring tymic carcinoids had poor prognoses when compared with bronchial carcinoids and pheocromocytomas.
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        Medical treatment of Cushing's syndrome: adrenal-blocking drugs and ketaconazole.

        Cushing's syndrome is associated with serious morbidity and increased mortality. Irrespective of its cause, i.e. a pituitary adenoma, ectopic ACTH production or an adrenal neoplasia, Cushing's syndrome is primarily treated surgically. However, when surgery is unsuccessful or contraindicated, medical therapy is needed to treat hypercortisolism. The spectrum of available drugs includes adrenal-blocking agents, neuromodulatory drugs and glucocorticoid receptor antagonists. Adrenal blocking drugs suppress adrenal cortisol production via inhibition of steroidogenic enzymes. Ketoconazole and metyrapone are most frequently used for this purpose, but chronic treatment with these drugs can be limited by side effects like hepatotoxicity (ketoconazole) and increased androgen and mineralocorticoid production (metyrapone). Etomidate can be used to rapidly reverse cortisol excess in patients with acute complications of (severe) hypercortisolism like psychosis. In Cushing's disease, combination therapy with drugs that target the corticotropic adenoma, i.e. the universal somatostatin analogue pasireotide and/or the dopamine agonist cabergoline, and low-dose ketoconazole seems a rational approach to achieve biochemical control. Copyright © 2010 S. Karger AG, Basel.
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          The medical treatment of Cushing's syndrome.


            Author and article information

            Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism Hirosaki University Graduate School of Medicine 5 Zaifu-cho, Hirosaki, Aomori, 036-8562Japan
            Author notes
            Correspondence should be addressed to K Kageyama Email: kkageyama@
            Endocrinol Diabetes Metab Case Rep
            Endocrinol Diabetes Metab Case Rep
            EDM Case Reports
            Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism Case Reports
            Bioscientifica Ltd (Bristol )
            01 March 2014
            : 2014
            © 2014 The authors

            This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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