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Introduction: The present study aimed to prove the metyrapone short test in a day clinic to be suitable for examining the integrity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in patients with suspected secondary and tertiary adrenal insufficiency and to identify novel effector molecules in acute stress response.
Methods: 44 patients were prospectively enrolled. Based on stimulated 11-deoxycortisol levels, patients were divided into a physiological (11-deoxycortisol ≥70 μg/L) and a pathological (11-deoxycortisol <70 μg/L) response group. Clinical follow-up examination was performed for validation. Ultraperformance liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry and a Fourier-transform-ion-cyclotron-resonance-mass-spectrometry were used for targeted and untargeted steroid metabolomics.
Results: At baseline, lower levels of cortisone (42 vs. 50 nmol/L, p = 0.048) and 17-OH-progesterone (0.6 vs. 1.2 nmol/L, p = 0.041) were noted in the pathological response group. After metyrapone administration, the pathological response group exhibited significantly lower 11-deoxycortisol (39.0 vs. 94.2 μg/L, p < 0.001) and ACTH (49 vs. 113 pg/mL, p < 0.001) concentrations as well as altered upstream metabolites. Untargeted metabolomics identified a total of 76 metabolites to be significantly up- or downregulated by metyrapone. A significant increase of the bile acid glycochenodeoxycholic acid (GCDC, p < 0.01) was detected in both groups with an even stronger increase in the physiological response group. After a mean follow-up of 17.2 months, an 11-deoxycortisol cut-off of 70 µg/L showed a high diagnostic performance (sensitivity 100%, specificity 96%).
Conclusion: The metyrapone short test is safe and feasible in a day clinic setting. The alterations of the bile acid GCDC indicate that the liver might be involved in the acute stress response of the HPA axis.
Keywords: Adrenal gland; Hypothalamus; Hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis.
© 2023 S. Karger AG, Basel.