Impairment of adrenocortical function associated with increased plasma tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-6 concentrations in African trypanosomiasis

Neuroimmunomodulation. 1994 Jan;1(1):14-22. doi: 10.1159/000095930.


African sleeping sickness (SS) is a severe, potentially lethal parasitic disease. The treatments of choice are the antiparasitic agents suramin, which is adrenotoxic, and/or melarsoprol. We evaluated the functional integrity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis of patients with SS before, during, and after therapy with suramin and/or melarsoprol, in two sequential stages. First, we employed the standard adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) 1-24 stimulation test (250 micrograms i.v.) to assess the maximal adrenocortical responsiveness of 69 patients with SS and 38 normal controls. We demonstrated paradoxically subnormal cortisol responses before suramin therapy [net cortisol response 60 min after stimulation: 10.5 +/- 2.9 (mean +/- SE) vs. 17.5 +/- 1.0 micrograms/dl for controls, p = 0.004], with 27% of the patients falling within the adrenal insufficiency range (stimulated cortisol concentration < 20 micrograms/dl). These responses subsequently and unexpectedly improved with suramin and/or melarsoprol therapy. Second, we performed a human corticotropin-releasing hormone (hCRH) test (100 micrograms i.v.) in 68 additional patients with SS and 14 control subjects to examine whether the glucocorticoid deficiency observed was primary and/or secondary. Compared to controls, the ACTH and cortisol responses to hCRH were blunted (ACTH after 60 min: 29 +/- 7 vs. 58 +/- 8 pg/ml in controls, p = 0.014; cortisol: 15.2 +/- 1.5 vs. 19.6 +/- 0.7 micrograms/dl, p = 0.018), suggesting the presence of secondary adrenal insufficiency. There was improvement of both ACTH and cortisol responsiveness to hCRH with therapy, with cortisol recovery occurring before ACTH, suggesting an additional primary component of adrenal dysfunction in these patients.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Cortex / metabolism*
  • Adult
  • Africa
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Interleukin-1 / metabolism
  • Interleukin-6 / blood*
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / metabolism
  • Trypanosomiasis / metabolism*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism*


  • Interleukin-1
  • Interleukin-6
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Hydrocortisone