Background: Cushing's disease causes significant pathological changes throughout the body as a result of elevated cortisol levels. Very few systematic investigations have focused on the morphologic effects of hypercortisolism on the central nervous system. The validity of using premature cerebral atrophy as a diagnostic tool for Cushing's disease remains unknown.
Methods: This study includes 63 patients with Cushing's disease who were evaluated and treated at the University of Virginia Medical Center. Radiologists randomly compared these individuals with age- and sex-matched controls in a blinded protocol, assessing the degree of cerebral atrophy on computed tomography and magnetic resonance scans.
Results: Patients with Cushing's disease showed significant premature atrophy when compared with controls. This trend continued after subdividing the groups based on age and duration of symptoms except in the following groups: age greater than 60, duration of symptoms less than 1 year, and symptoms lasting between 4-5 years.
Conclusions: Excluding the three aforementioned groups, the hypercortisolemic state manifested in patients with Cushing's disease promotes the premature development of cerebral atrophy, which can be identified on routine radiologic imaging and may assist in the clinical diagnosis of the condition.