Minding the gap between cortisol levels measured with second-generation assays and current diagnostic thresholds for the diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency: a single-center experience

G. Grassi, V. Morelli, F. Ceriotti, E. Polledri, S. Fustinoni, S. D’Agostino, G. Mantovani, I. Chiodini, M. Arosio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The current cut-offs for the diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency (AI) have been established using outdated immunoassays. We compared the cortisol concentrations measured with Roche Cortisol I (R1), the newly available Roche Cortisol II (R2), and liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS), the gold standard procedure to measure steroids in patients undergoing the corticotropin (ACTH) test. Methods: We enrolled 30 patients (age 47 ± 21 years) referred to undergo the ACTH test (1 or 250 μg). Cortisol was measured at 0, 30, and 60 min after stimulation with R1, R2, and LC-MS/MS. AI was diagnosed for R1-stimulated peak cortisol concentrations < 500 nmol/L. Results: Mean cortisol concentrations measured with R2 and LC-MS/MS were comparable, while mean cortisol concentrations measured by R1 were higher than those of both R2 and LC-MS/MS (respectively, basal 411 ± 177, 287 ± 119, and 295 ± 119 nmol/L; at 30 min, 704 ± 204, 480 ± 132, and 500 ± 132 nmol/L; at 60 min, 737 ± 301, 502 ± 196, and 519 ± 201 nmol/L, p ≤ 0.01 for R1 vs. both R2 and LC-MS/MS at each point). Considering the 500 nmol/L cortisol peak cut-off, AI was diagnosed in 5/30 patients using R1 and in 12/30 using R2 (+ 140%). Based on the correlation between R1 and R2, the threshold of 500 nmol/L became 351 nmol/L (12.7 μg/dL) when cortisol was measured with R2, and 368 nmol/L (13.3 μg/dL) with LC-MS/MS. Conclusions: The use of more specific cortisol assays results in lower cortisol concentrations. This could lead to misdiagnosis and overtreatment when assessing AI with the ACTH test if a different cut-off for cortisol peak is not adopted.

Original languageItalian
Pages (from-to)425-431
Number of pages7
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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