Objective: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) without contrast medium is unable to give detailed information on the hypothalamic-pituitary structures. MRI using gadopentetate dimeglumine (Gd-DTPA), and dynamic MRI, were performed in patients with hypopituitarism previously diagnosed as having anterior pituitary hypoplasia, ectopic posterior pituitary and unidentified pituitary stalk (1) to determine whether Gd-DTPA improves the delineation of hypothalamic-pituitary structures; (2) to verify whether, if so, such improvement can be correlated with residual pituitary function in patients subjected to long-term follow-up; and (3) to identify the hypothalamic-pituitary vascular network in such cases.
Patients: Eighteen patients (13 males, 5 females) aged 10-26.4 years with unidentified pituitary stalk at first MRI study were evaluated. Eight had isolated GH deficiency (IGHD), and 10 had multiple pituitary hormone defect (MPHD) with the progression to complete anterior pituitary deficits seen by the age of 15 years in 8 patients (1 had GH and FSH-LH deficiency and 1 had GH, TSH and FSH-LH deficiency).
Results: The MRI revealed a very thin pituitary stalk in 7 patients (38.8%), 6 with IGHD (75%) and 1 (10%) with MPHD (GH and FSH-LH deficiency), after Gd-DTPA administration. Reassessment of anterior pituitary function showed that the thyroid, adrenal and gonadal functions were intact in the 6 patients with IGHD and pituitary stalk identified by Gd-DTPA as well as in one IGHD patient with no evidence of pituitary stalk. In one 10-year-old with IGHD at the time of presentation (6 years) and no pituitary stalk seen after Gd-DTPA, subclinical hypothalamic hypothyroidism and suspected hypogonadotropic hypogonadism were documented. Partial ACTH deficiency was recorded in the patient with TSH and FSH-LH deficiency with no pituitary stalk. After Gd-DTPA, patients with absent pituitary stalk had a risk of developing MPHD 27 times greater than had those with an identified pituitary stalk (relative risk = 27, 95% confidence interval 1.9-368.4, Fisher's exact test P = 0.009). Dynamic MR images obtained every 4.6 s revealed rapid enhancement of hypothalamic-pituitary structures and allowed the determination of the times to initial enhancement of ectopic posterior pituitary and hypoplastic anterior pituitary which ranged between 9.2 and 18.4 s, and that of complete anterior pituitary (32.2-41.4 s). The time to maximum enhancement of anterior pituitary was significantly longer than in controls (35.5 +/- 3.8 s vs 25.2 +/- 1.6 s, P < 0.0001).
Conclusions: MRI with Gd-DTPA proved more sensitive in identifying the vascular component of pituitary stalk and added new information about the partial preservation of hypothalamo-hypophyseal portal vessels. The vascular pituitary stalk is easily recognized after Gd-DTPA in most IGHD patients, but exceptionally in MPHD; this sheds light on the possible normal course of affected patients. The neural component of the pituitary stalk is lacking regardless of whether patients have IGHD or MPHD, indicating that the term congenital agenesis of the neural pituitary stalk is more appropriate than pituitary stalk interruption. The times to enhancement of ectopic posterior pituitary and residual anterior pituitary obtained by the fast-framing MRI technique disclose dynamic changes in regional blood supply which appear direct, arterial and mainly independent of the portal system.