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Concept: Anterior pituitary


Most species living in temperate zones adapt their physiology and behavior to seasonal changes in the environment by using the photoperiod as a primary cue. The mechanisms underlying photoperiodic regulation of stress-related functions are not well understood. In this study, we analyzed the effects of photoperiod on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in photoperiod-sensitive Fischer 344 rats. We first examined how photoperiod affects diurnal variations in plasma concentrations of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and corticosterone. ACTH levels did not exhibit diurnal variations under long- and short-day conditions. On the other hand, corticosterone levels exhibited a clear rhythm under short-day condition with a peak during dark phase. This peak was not observed under long-day condition in which a significant rhythm was not detected. To analyze the mechanisms responsible for the photoperiodic regulation of corticosterone rhythms, ACTH was intraperitoneally injected at the onset of the light or dark phase in dexamethasone-treated rats maintained under long- and short-day conditions. ACTH induced higher corticosterone levels in rats examined at dark onset under short-day condition than those maintained under long-day condition. Next, we asked whether melatonin signals are involved in photoperiodic regulation of corticosterone rhythms, and rats were intraperitoneally injected with melatonin at late afternoon under long-day condition for 3 weeks. However, melatonin injections did not affect the corticosterone rhythms. In addition, photoperiodic changes in the amplitude of corticosterone rhythms were also observed in melatonin-deficient C57BL/6J mice, in which expression profiles of several clock genes and steroidgenesis genes in adrenal gland were modified by the photoperiod. Our data suggest that photoperiod regulates corticosterone rhythms by altered adrenal sensitivity through melatonin-independent mechanisms that may involve the adrenal clock.

Concepts: Hypothalamus, Cortisol, Circadian rhythm, Adrenocorticotropic hormone, Adrenal cortex, ACTH stimulation test, Adrenal gland, Anterior pituitary


BACKGROUND: Cluster headache is associated with structural abnormalities of the hypothalamus. We were interested in the association of cluster headache with endocrinological functional abnormalities. Therefore, we applied the apomorphine challenge test, which is a specific test of hypothalamic dopaminergic activation. METHODS: We enrolled 13 patients with cluster headache outside the bout and without medication. They were stimulated with 0.005 mg/kg of body weight subcutaneous apomorphine hydrochloride. After 45 and 60 minutes, growth hormone (GH), prolactin and cortisol were measured. The test was also applied to 14 sex- and age-matched healthy control subjects. RESULTS: There were significantly higher GH levels in healthy subjects as compared to cluster headache patients 45 minutes after injection (10.8 ± 10.8 versus 4.4 ± 7.4 ng/ml; P  = 0.038). Only in cluster headache, the GH level after 60 minutes was not significantly different from the baseline. The levels of prolactin and cortisol did not show any significant differences between cluster headache patients and in healthy subjects. DISCUSSION: Our data suggest that cluster headache is associated with an impaired dopaminergic stimulation. This finding supports the body of evidence that cluster headache is associated with a functional abnormality of the hypothalamus and that this association is a primary (i.e. idiopathic) and not a secondary phenomenon during the bout.

Concepts: Hypothalamus, Pituitary gland, Prolactin, Growth hormone, Dopamine, Somatostatin, Anterior pituitary, Dopaminergic


The objective of this study was to evaluate outcomes of endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery using a single-surgeon technique as an alternative to the more commonly employed two-surgeon, three-hand method. Three hundred consecutive endoscopic transsphenoidal procedures performed over a 5 year period from 2006 to 2011 were reviewed. All procedures were performed via a binasal approach utilizing a single surgeon two handed technique with a pneumatic endoscope holder. Expanded enodnansal cases were excluded. Surgical technique, biochemical and surgical outcomes, and complications were analyzed. 276 patients underwent 300 consecutive surgeries with a mean follow-up period of 37 ± 22 months. Non-functioning pituitary adenoma (NFPA) was the most common pathology (n = 152), followed by growth hormone secreting tumors (n = 41) and Rathke’s cleft cysts (n = 30). Initial gross total cyst drainage based on radiologic criteria was obtained in 28 cases of Rathke’s cleft cyst, with 5 recurrences. For NFPA and other pathologies (n = 173) gross total resection was obtained in 137 cases, with a 92 % concordance rate between observed and expected extent of resection. For functional adenoma, remission rates were 30/41 (73 %) for GH-secreting, 12/12 (100 %) for ACTH-secreting, and 8/17 (47 %) for prolactin-secreting tumors. Post-operative complications included transient (11 %) and permanent (1.4 %) diabetes insipidus, hyponatremia (13 %), and new anterior pituitary hormonal deficits (1.4 %). CSF leak occurred in 42 cases (15 %), and four patients required surgical repair. Two carotid artery injuries occurred, both early in the series. Epistaxis and other rhinological complications were noted in 10 % of patients, most of which were minor and diminished as surgical experience increased. Fully endoscopic single surgeon transsphenoidal surgery utilizing a binasal approach and a pneumatic endoscope holder yields outcomes comparable to those reported with a two-surgeon method. Endoscopic outcomes appear to be better than those reported in microscope-based series, regardless of a one or two surgeon technique.

Concepts: Pituitary adenoma, Hospital, Surgery, Physician, Growth hormone, Common carotid artery, Anterior pituitary, Rathke's pouch


Rathke’s cleft cysts (RCC) are benign lesions that originate from remnants of Rathke’s pouch. They can compress adjacent structures causing visual loss and endocrine dysfunction. The endoscopic endonasal transsphenoidal approach (EETA) has gained popularity in the surgical management of pituitary and parasellar tumors. However, postoperative cyst recurrence and endocrine dysfunction are still major concerns. A retrospective chart review was performed on 11 patients who underwent a purely EETA. Subtotal resection of the cyst wall with drainage of the intracystic contents followed by obliteration of the cyst with a fat graft was performed in all patients. Two patients underwent repeated surgeries for symptomatic cyst recurrence. One patient ultimately underwent extracapsular removal of the entire cyst wall because of multiple recurrences after simple drainage. There were no incidences of new permanent hypopituitarism, visual deficits, or postoperative cerebrospinal fluid leaks. All patients reported an improvement of initial preoperative symptoms. A non-aggressive strategy of partial cyst wall removal and simple drainage of cyst contents via EETA is a viable approach for surgical treatment of RCC with a low rate of postoperative endocrine and visual complications. A more aggressive strategy of extracapsular removal of the cyst wall may be indicated in patients with repeated recurrence.

Concepts: Neuroendocrinology, Sebaceous cyst, Anterior pituitary, Spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leak, Rathke's pouch, Rathke's cleft cyst


Sutherlandia frutescens is widely used in indigenous medicine for the treatment of stress- and anxiety-related disorders, and although anecdotal evidence has been scientifically confirmed, relatively little data are available on its potential mechanisms of action. We manipulated a rodent model of acute psychological stress by acutely administering a low dose (4 mg/kg body mass) of S. frutescens extract 30 min prior to stress exposure (1 h restraint), to elucidate both its central and peripheral mechanisms of action in the context of acute stress. After 1 h of exposure to stress, acute restraint resulted in a significant increase in plasma corticosterone levels (56 ± 33 versus 499 ± 50 ng/ml; P < 0.0001) and anterior pituitary adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) levels (0.066 ± 0.017 versus 0.202 ± 0.033% fluorescent area; P = 0.07), while decreasing hippocampal glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)(A)α1 receptor levels (both P < 0.05). While the low dose of S. frutescens administered did not seem to have an effect on the down-stream stress response, it abolished the stress-induced down-regulation of GR, in a manner independent of GABA(A)α1 receptor. Results suggest a non-sedative effect of low-dose S. frutescens and points to central mechanisms of action that is in support of the anecdotal claims for its effectiveness as complimentary treatment in chronic stress-associated diseases.

Concepts: Hypothalamus, Cortisol, Adrenocorticotropic hormone, Adrenal cortex, Tropic hormone, Sutherlandia frutescens, Evidence, Anterior pituitary


Persistent free-running circannual (approximately year-long) rhythms have evolved in animals to regulate hormone cycles, drive metabolic rhythms (including hibernation), and time annual reproduction. Recent studies have defined the photoperiodic input to this rhythm, wherein melatonin acts on thyrotroph cells of the pituitary pars tuberalis (PT), leading to seasonal changes in the control of thyroid hormone metabolism in the hypothalamus. However, seasonal rhythms persist in constant conditions in many species in the absence of a changing photoperiod signal, leading to the generation of circannual cycles. It is not known which cells, tissues, and pathways generate these remarkable long-term rhythmic processes. We show that individual PT thyrotrophs can be in one of two binary states reflecting either a long (EYA3(+)) or short (CHGA(+)) photoperiod, with the relative proportion in each state defining the phase of the circannual cycle. We also show that a morphogenic cycle driven by the PT leads to extensive re-modeling of the PT and hypothalamus over the circannual cycle. We propose that the PT may employ a recapitulated developmental pathway to drive changes in morphology of tissues and cells. Our data are consistent with the hypothesis that the circannual timer may reside within the PT thyrotroph and is encoded by a binary switch timing mechanism, which may regulate the generation of circannual neuroendocrine rhythms, leading to dynamic re-modeling of the hypothalamic interface. In summary, the PT-ventral hypothalamus now appears to be a prime structure involved in long-term rhythm generation.

Concepts: Hypothalamus, Metabolism, Growth hormone, Vasopressin, Neuroendocrinology, Rhythm, Puberty, Anterior pituitary


Background: Recombinant human growth hormone (rhGH) is being used to promote linear growth in short children with Noonan syndrome. However, its efficacy is still controversial. Aims: To systematically determine the impact of rhGH therapy on adult height in children with Noonan syndrome. Methods: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, ISI Web of Science, MEDLINE, and the bibliographic references from all retrieved articles published until April 2014. Studies reporting adult/near-adult height in children with Noonan syndrome treated with rhGH or reporting at least a 3-year follow-up were analysed. Quality and strength of recommendation were assessed according to the Endocrine Society criteria. Results: No controlled trials reporting adult height were available. Five studies were identified reporting adult height or near adult height. Data comparison showed inter-individual variability in the response to rhGH, mean height gain standard deviation score ranging between 0.6 and 1.4 according to national standards, and between 0.6 and 2 according to Noonan standards. Significant biases affected all the studies. Conclusions: High-quality controlled trials on the impact of rhGH therapy on adult height are lacking, and the robustness of available data is not sufficient to recommend such therapy in children with Noonan syndrome. © 2015 S. Karger AG, Basel.

Concepts: Immune system, Recombinant DNA, Endocrinology, Growth hormone, Turner syndrome, Somatostatin, Endocrine gland, Anterior pituitary


In anterior pituitary endocrine cells, large (BK), small (SK) and intermediate (IK) conductance calcium activated potassium channels are key determinants in shaping cellular excitability in a cell type- and context-specific manner. Indeed, these channels are targeted by multiple signaling pathways that stimulate or inhibit cellular excitability. BK channels can, paradoxically, both promote electrical bursting as well as terminate bursting and spiking dependent upon intrinsic BK channel properties and proximity to voltage gated calcium channels in somatotrophs, lactotrophs and corticotrophs. In contrast, SK channels are predominantly activated by calcium released from intracellular IP3-sensitive calcium stores and mediate membrane hyperpolarization in cells including gonadotrophs and corticotrophs. IK channels are predominantly expressed in corticotrophs where they limit membrane excitability. A major challenge for the future is to determine the cell-type specific molecular composition of calcium-activated potassium channels and how they control anterior pituitary hormone secretion as well as other calcium-dependent processes.

Concepts: Cell, Pituitary gland, Cytosol, Cell membrane, Action potential, Ion channels, Anterior pituitary, Calcium-activated potassium channel


Domesticated species exhibit a suite of behavioral, endocrinological, and morphological changes referred to as “domestication syndrome.” These changes may include a reduction in reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, specifically reduced adrenocorticotropic hormone release from the anterior pituitary. To investigate the biological mechanisms targeted during domestication, we investigated gene expression in the pituitaries of experimentally domesticated foxes (Vulpes vulpes). RNA was sequenced from the anterior pituitary of six foxes selectively bred for tameness (“tame foxes”) and six foxes selectively bred for aggression (“aggressive foxes”). Expression, splicing, and network differences identified between the two lines indicated the importance of genes related to regulation of exocytosis, specifically mediated by cAMP, organization of pseudopodia, and cell motility.  These findings provide new insights into biological mechanisms that may have been targeted when these lines of foxes were selected for behavior, and suggest new directions for research into HPA axis regulation and the biological underpinnings of domestication.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Hypothalamus, Genetics, Gene expression, Molecular biology, Selective breeding, Anterior pituitary


The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is a dynamic system regulating glucocorticoid hormone synthesis in the adrenal glands. Many key factors within the adrenal steroidogenic pathway have been identified and studied, but little is known about how these factors function collectively as a dynamic network of interacting components. To investigate this, we developed a mathematical model of the adrenal steroidogenic regulatory network that accounts for key regulatory processes occurring at different timescales. We used our model to predict the time evolution of steroidogenesis in response to physiological adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) perturbations, ranging from basal pulses to larger stress-like stimulations (e.g., inflammatory stress). Testing these predictions experimentally in the rat, our results show that the steroidogenic regulatory network architecture is sufficient to respond to both small and large ACTH perturbations, but coupling this regulatory network with the immune pathway is necessary to explain the dissociated dynamics between ACTH and glucocorticoids observed under conditions of inflammatory stress.

Concepts: Immune system, Scientific method, Hypothalamus, Mathematics, Glucocorticoid, Cortisol, Adrenal cortex, Anterior pituitary