Cushing's syndrome due to ectopic production of corticotropin-releasing hormone in an infant with ganglioneuroblastoma

Farhad Zangeneh, William F. Young, Ricardo V. Lloyd, Myra Chiang, Elizabeth Kurczynski, Fereydoun Zangeneh

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15 Scopus citations


Objective: To report the first recognized case of Cushing's syndrome due to a corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH)-secreting ganglioneuroblastoma, which was found in an 18-month-old boy with hypertensive encephalopathy. Methods: The clinical, biochemical, and immunohistochemical characteristics of this rare syndrome are described, and the relevant literature is reviewed. Results: An 18-month-old boy with a history of recent weight gain was admitted because of sudden onset of right fixed esotropia and left facial palsy after episodes of emesis. Magnetic resonance imaging showed old left frontal lobe and right hypothalamic infarcts. The patient had generalized obesity, decelerated linear growth, hypertrichosis, hypertension (144/103 mm Hg), hypokalemia, and proteinuria. The 24-hour urinary excretion of free cortisol, catecholamines, and metanephrines was increased. The serum cortisol concentration after a 1-mg overnight dexamethasone suppression test (DST) was 53.7 μg/dL (normal, <5). The serum adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) concentration was 7 pg/mL (normal, 10 to 60), and the CRH level was 439 pg/mL (normal, 24 to 40). An overnight high-dose DST (8 mg) failed to suppress serum cortisol; however, both cortisol and ACTH were responsive to ovine CRH stimulation. Despite discordant dynamic endocrine testing and negative somatostatin receptor scintigraphy, computed tomography showed a right 3.6- by 3.0-cm extra-adrenal retroperitoneal mass with central calcification extending 7 cm cephalocaudally. The patient underwent exploratory laparotomy, followed by chemotherapy. Findings on light microscopic and immunohistochemical examination of the retroperitoneal mass were consistent with a ganglioneuroblastoma that expressed CRH, pro- opiomelanocortin, and ACTH. Conclusion: The evaluation of Cushing's syndrome is one of the most complex endocrine challenges. In this case, it was due to ectopic production of CRH by a ganglioneuroblastoma. Because most CRH-producing tumors also secrete ACTH, the ectopic production may represent a paracrine phenomenon in addition to an endocrine phenomenon. The ectopic CRH may also indirectly provoke pituitary ACTH secretion. This dual mechanism may explain the resistance of the tumor to feedback inhibition and a CRH-stimulation response indistinguishable from that observed in pituitary-dependent Cushing's syndrome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)394-399
Number of pages6
JournalEndocrine Practice
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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