Differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism: Imaging versus laboratory

Massimiliano Andrioli, Francesca Pecori Giraldi, Martina De Martin, Agnese Cattaneo, Chiara Carzaniga, Francesco Cavagnini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome often presents major difficulties. Diagnostic troubles are increased by suboptimal specificity of endocrine tests, the rarity of ectopic ACTH secretion and the frequent incidental discovery of pituitary adenomas. A 43-year-old female reported with mild signs and symptoms of hypercortisolism, and initial hormonal tests and results of pituitary imaging (7-mm adenoma) were suggestive for Cushing's disease. However, inadequate response to corticotrophin-releasing hormone and failure to suppress after 8 mg dexamethasone pointed towards an ectopic source. Total body CT scan visualized only a small, non-specific nodule in the right posterior costophrenic excavation. Inferior petrosal sinus sampling revealed an absent center:periphery ACTH gradient but octreoscan and 18F-FDG-PET-CT failed to detect abnormal tracer accumulation. We weighed results of the laboratory with those of imaging and decided to remove the lung nodule. Pathology identified a typical, ACTH-staining carcinoid and the diagnosis was confirmed by postsurgical hypoadrenalism. In conclusion, imaging may prove unsatisfactory or even misleading for the etiologial diagnosis of ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome and should therefore be interpreted only in context with results of hormonal dynamic testing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)294-296
Number of pages3
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Carcinoid
  • Cushing
  • Ectopic ACTH secretion
  • Pituitary adenoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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