The diagnosis of growth hormone deficiency (GHD) in successfully treated acromegalic patients

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • RD Murray
  • SR Peacey
  • A Rahim
  • MO Thorner
  • SM Shalet

Colleges, School and Institutes


Due to persistent qualitative abnormalities in GH secretion following treatment, and lack of a sensitive marker of GHD in mid-adult life it is extremely difficult to diagnose GHD in treated acromegalic patients. The diagnosis of GHD in patients with pituitary disease relies on provocative tests of GH reserve. Arginine releases GH by reducing somatostatin inhibition of GH release, whereas GH secretagogues (GHS) affect GH release by direct stimulation of the GHS receptor, though an intact GH releasing hormone (GHRH) axis is a prerequisite. The peak GH response to insulin-induced hypoglycaemia and arginine in acromegalic patients, in whom basal serum GH levels of less than 5 mU/l have been achieved, is greatly diminished in those treated by hypothalamo-pituitary irradiation. We aimed to study the response of successfully treated acromegalic patients to the growth hormone secretagogue hexarelin in view of its different putative mechanism of action, and in addition, to determine whether it has any value in the diagnosis of GH deficiency in this subset of patients. Nineteen acromegalic patients, in whom mean serum GH levels below 5 mU/l have been achieved through treatment, were recruited. Eight of the patients had been treated by surgery alone (Group A) and 11 had received primary or postoperative irradiation (Group B). All patients underwent 20 min blood sampling to provide a 24-h GH profile. Serum IGF-I was measured from a sample drawn between 0900 h and 1000 h. On a second visit arginine 20 g/m2 was infused over 30 min, blood samples were taken before commencing the infusion and at 30-min intervals thereafter for 180 min. At the final visit hexarelin 1.5 mcg/kg was administered as an intravenous bolus at t = 0. Blood was drawn at 15-min intervals from - 30 to 180 min. All patients in group A showed an increment in serum GH following hexarelin (DeltaGHHEX) > 20 mU/l, a normal response to arginine, and a mean 24-h GH > 0.5 mU/l. In group B only 4/11 achieved a DeltaGHHEX > 20 mU/l, 5/11 producing a response of <2 mU/l. Four of the five patients with a DeltaGHHEX <2 mU/l were also demonstrated to have a mean 24-h GH of <0.5 mU/l and serum IGF-I SDS <+ 0.5. All four patients in Group B who achieved a DeltaGHHEX > 20 mU/l, were observed to show an absent or minimal GH response to arginine. Despite loss of the GH response to arginine, the DeltaGHHEX is retained in a proportion of those patients in whom "safe" GH levels were achieved following irradiation. From the putative mechanisms of action of these provocative agents a plausible explanation would be that the GHRH axis is more resilient than endogenous somatostatin-secreting neurones to radiation-induced damage. Furthermore, GH secretagogues may have a role, in combination with serum IGF-I levels, in the diagnosis of GH deficiency in treated acromegaly.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-44
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Endocrinology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2001