OBJECTIVE: Growth retardation is a prominent secondary feature of chronic liver disease. We investigated the hypothalamic-pituitary-liver axis in six patients with inherited liver disease and growth failure. The objectives were to determine (1) whether there were any abnormalities in the GH/IGF-I/IGFBPs/GH binding protein (GHBP) axis, (2) whether any abnormalities were nutrition-dependent, and (3) whether recombinant human (rh) GH could be efficaciously and safely administered. MEASUREMENTS: The evaluation included two standard GH provocative tests, GHRH test, night-time GH secretion, GHBP; and IGF-I, IGFBP-3 and IGFBP-1 before and after 0.1 and 0.3 U/kg/day of rhGH given i.m. for 4 days. Two patients were enrolled for rhGH treatment. RESULTS: Quantitative nutritional assessment showed the patients' calorie and protein intake to be compatible with the recommended daily allowance in liver disease. The mean baseline GH level was higher in patients than in controls (8.4 ± 3.8 vs 2.6 ± 2.0 mU/l, P <0.005) and the GH response to stimuli was normal; spontaneous GH secretion was apparently normal. The mean baseline IGF-I value in the patients was significantly below the mean of controls (31.6 ± 16.4 vs 260.0 ± 35-2 μg/l, P = 0.00001) and similar to that of children with GH-deficiency (40.8 ± 18.4 μg/l). The mean peak IGF-I response after 0.1 U/kg/day of rhGH increased (84.9 ± 28.2 μg/l, P = 0.009) but remained lower than the mean IGF-I response in GH-deficient patients and in controls (P = 0.00001). The mean peak IGF-I response after 0.3 U/kg/day (113.3 ± 52.3 μg/l) was significantly higher than that after 0.1 U/kg/day (P = 0.002). The mean standard deviation score (SDS) peak for IGF-I response to 0.1 and 0.3 U/kg/day of rhGH decreased significantly from -1.7 to -1.0 (P = 0.02) and from -1.9 to -0.9 (P = 0.005), respectively. There was no difference between patients and controls in serum GHBP activity or in mean baseline IGFBP-3 and IGFBP-1 levels. IGFBP-3 levels did not change significantly in response to rhGH at either 0.1 or 0.3 U/kg/day, while IGFBP- 1 significantly decreased after 0.3 U/kg/day (56.3 ± 35.6 vs 45.9 ± 33.1 μg/l, P = 0.04). A significant positive correlation was present between albumin and peak IGF-I responses to rhGH at the dose of 0.1 and 0.3 U/kg/day (R = 0.83, P = 0.03; R = 0.78, P = 0.03 respectively), as well as between height SDS and baseline or stimulated IGF-I after rhGH 0.1 U/kg/day (R = 0.81, P = 0.04; R = 0.88, P = 0.01 respectively). In the two patients treated with rhGH at 22-25 U/m2/week, the growth rate doubled in one and trebled in the other during the first year of treatment, and in both was maintained in the second year without acceleration of bone maturation or evidence of adverse effects. CONCLUSIONS: The underlying cause of growth retardation in patients with inherited liver disease seems to be a progressive failure to increase IGF-I synthesis (at the conventional rhGH dose) and the consequent lack of its growth-promoting effect. The moderate increase in baseline GH values, the greater IGF-I response to the higher rhGH dose and the improvement in growth rate following rhGH administration suggest at least a degree of sensitivity to rhGH which could be of therapeutic value.
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