Neuroendocrine dysfunction in African trypanosomiasis. The role of cytokines

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1998 May 1;840:809-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1998.tb09619.x.


Sleeping sickness (SS; African trypanosomiasis) is an anthropozoonosis transmitted by the tsetse fly. Infection with Trypanosoma brucei in humans is associated with adynamia, lethargy, anorexia, and more specifically amenorrhea/infertility in women and loss of libido/impotence in men. Recent evidence suggests that experimental infection in animals with Trypanosoma brucei species causes polyglandular endocrine failure by local inflammation of the pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, and gonadal glands. In a cross-sectional study we investigated the prevalence and significance of neuroendocrine abnormalities in 137 Ugandan patients with SS. In the untreated stage of the disease, there was a high prevalence of adrenal insufficiency (27%), hypothyroidism (50%) and hypogonadism (85%). Pituitary function tests suggested an unusual combined central (hypothalamic/pituitary) and peripheral defect in hormone secretion. Specific therapy resulted in a rapid recovery of adrenal/thyroid function, whereas hypogonadism persisted for years in a substantial portion of patients. We did not detect pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, and gonadal autoantibodies in patients with endocrine dysfunction, ruling out an autoimmune origin of the endocrine abnormalities. However, the presence of hypopituitarism correlated with high cytokine concentrations (TNF-alpha, IL-6) which--together with direct parasitic infiltration of the endocrine glands--are involved in the pathogenesis of SS-associated endocrine dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / physiology*
  • Gonads / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Inflammation Mediators / physiology
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiopathology*
  • Pituitary Diseases / etiology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Thyroid Gland / physiopathology
  • Trypanosomiasis / physiopathology*


  • Cytokines
  • Inflammation Mediators