[Reactive thymus dysplasia following therapy for ACTH-producing tumors]

Radiologe. 1997 Nov;37(11):913-7. doi: 10.1007/s001170050302.
[Article in German]


Surgical or conservative treatment of ACTH-producing tumors results in acute drop of the previously excessively high cortisol levels. The following associated pathophysiological changes also occur in the organism's recovery from stress, such as trauma, operation or chemotherapy of tumors. Both cases result in a regeneration of the immune system, which might even be exalted. The corresponding radiographic feature is the "rebound" enlargement of the thymus occurring about six months after remission of hypercortisolism. Histological examination reveals benign thymus hyperplasia. Especially in cases of still unknown primary tumor the appearance of this anterior mediastinal mass can lead to misdiagnosis. We present the cases of two patients with diffuse thymic hyperplasia following surgical and medical correction of hypercortisolism. One patient suffered from classic Cushing's disease responding to transsphenoidal resection of an ACTH-secreting pituitary microadenoma. Six months later CT of the chest incidentally demonstrated an anterior mediastinal mass known as thymic hyperplasia. The second patient presented with an ectopic, still unkown source of ACTH-production. Six months after medical correction of hypercortisolism CT of the thorax showed an enlargement of the anterior mediastinum. Thymectomy was performed in order to exclude thymus carcinoid. Histological examination revealed benign thymus hyperplasia with negative immunostaining.

Conclusion: Radiologists and clinicians should be familiar with the pathophysiological changes resulting from precipitously dropping cortisol levels in order to prevent diagnostic errors and unnecessary operations.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocortical Hyperfunction / etiology*
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / metabolism*
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / surgery
  • Pituitary Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Pituitary Neoplasms / surgery
  • Prolactinoma / metabolism*
  • Prolactinoma / surgery
  • Thymus Hyperplasia / diagnostic imaging
  • Thymus Hyperplasia / etiology*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone