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ACTH and cortisol responses to CRH in acute, subacute, and prolonged critical illness: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover cohort studyOpen access

Bram Peeters| Philippe Meersseman| Sarah Vander Perre| Pieter J. Wouters| Yves Debaveye| Lies Langouche| Greet Van den Berghe
Original
Volume 44, Issue 12 / December , 2018

Pages 2048 - 2058

Abstract

Purpose

Low plasma ACTH in critically ill patients may be explained by shock/inflammation-induced hypothalamus-pituitary damage or by feedback inhibition exerted by elevated plasma free cortisol. One can expect augmented/prolonged ACTH-responses to CRH injection with hypothalamic damage, immediately suppressed responses with pituitary damage, and delayed decreased responses in prolonged critical illness with feedback inhibition.

Methods

This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover cohort study, compared ACTH responses to 100 µg IV CRH and placebo in 3 cohorts of 40 matched patients in the acute (ICU-day 3–6), subacute (ICU-day 7–16) or prolonged phase (ICU-day 17–28) of critical illness, with 20 demographically matched healthy subjects. CRH or placebo was injected in random order on two consecutive days. Blood was sampled repeatedly over 135 min and AUC responses to placebo were subtracted from those to CRH.

Results

Patients had normal mean ± SEM plasma ACTH concentrations (25.5 ± 1.6 versus 24.8 ± 3.6 pg/ml in healthy subjects, P = 0.54) but elevated free cortisol concentrations (3.11 ± 0.27 versus 0.58 ± 0.05 µg/dl in healthy subjects, P < 0.0001). The order of the CRH/placebo injections did not affect the ACTH responses, hence results were pooled. Patients in the acute phase of illness had normal mean ± SEM ACTH responses (5149 ± 848 pg/mL min versus 4120 ± 688 pg/mL min in healthy subjects; P = 0.77), whereas those in the subacute (2333 ± 387 pg/mL min, P = 0.01) and prolonged phases (2441 ± 685 pg/mL min, P = 0.001) were low, irrespective of sepsis/septic shock or risk of death.

Conclusions

Suppressed ACTH responses to CRH in the more prolonged phases, but not acute phase, of critical illness are compatible with feedback inhibition exerted by elevated free cortisol, rather than by cellular damage to hypothalamus and/or pituitary.

Keywords

References

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