Extrapituitary parasellar microadenoma in Cushing's disease

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1999 Aug;84(8):2912-23. doi: 10.1210/jcem.84.8.5890.


Negative sellar exploration (despite the results of endocrine evaluation indicating Cushing's disease), the high incidence of failure of total hypophysectomy, and remission of Cushing's syndrome after unsuccessful hypophysectomy and sellar irradiation suggest that the etiology of refractory Cushing's disease, in some patients, lies near the sella but not in the pituitary gland. We present 5 patients, out of 626 who received surgery for Cushing's disease, in whom an ACTH-secreting extrapituitary parasellar adenoma was identified: 2 after unsuccessful total hypophysectomy for the treatment of refractory Cushing's disease, 2 after unsuccessful hemihypophysectomy (the first, 2 yr before treatment at the NIH for Nelson's syndrome; and the second, with recurrent Cushing's disease 5 yr after negative transsphenoidal exploration), and 1 with a preoperative diagnosis of an intraclival microadenoma, which was cured by resection of the tumor. In all cases, an extrapituitary parasellar microadenoma was confirmed unequivocally as the cause of the disease, by negative pathology of the resected pituitary gland (patients 1, 2, 3, and 5), and/or the remission of the disease after selective resection of the extrasellar adenoma (patients 3, 4, and 5). Three of 5 patients had a partial empty sella. These patients support the thesis that ACTH-secreting tumors can arise exclusively from remnants of Rathke's pouch, rather than from the adenohypophysis (anterior lobe or pars tuberalis of the pituitary gland) and can be a cause of Cushing's disease. In the sixth presented case, an extrapituitary tumor was suspected at surgery after negative pituitary exploration, but serial sections of the hemihypophysectomy specimen revealed a microscopic focus of tumor at the margin of the resected gland. This case demonstrates the importance of negative pituitary histology to establish the presence of an extrapituitary parasellar tumor as an exclusive source of ACTH, and it supports the value of clinical outcome to establish the diagnosis with selective adenomectomy of an extrapituitary parasellar tumor. In patients with negative pituitary magnetic resonance imaging, especially in the presence of a partial empty sella, the diagnostic and surgical approach in Cushing's disease should consider the identification and resection of extrapituitary parasellar adenoma, which can avoid total hypophysectomy, as was possible in 3 of our 5 patients.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma / diagnosis
  • Adenoma / metabolism*
  • Adenoma / pathology
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / metabolism*
  • Adult
  • Cushing Syndrome / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sella Turcica*


  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone