Objective: To examine the functional integrity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) and thyroid axes in Sjögren's syndrome (SS) via the assessment of basal and stimulated adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), cortisol, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), and prolactin levels.
Methods: Pituitary function of the HPA axis was assessed by determining the basal plasma levels of ACTH in the late afternoon, as well as the ACTH released to ovine corticotropin releasing hormone (oCRH) stimulation; adrenal function was assessed by measuring plasma cortisol levels in the late afternoon at baseline and after release of the endogenous ACTH during oCRH stimulation. Basal and thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH) stimulated levels of TSH and prolactin were also assessed. Healthy volunteers were used as controls.
Results: Patients with SS, compared to controls, were characterized by significantly lower ACTH levels (pg/ml), (5.1 +/- 0.5 vs 11.4 +/- 1.5, respectively; p < 0.05) and cortisol levels (microg/ml), (2.4 +/- 0.6 vs 5.9 +/- 1.2, respectively; p < 0.05). Furthermore, a blunted pituitary and adrenal response to oCRH compared to controls was observed: peak plasma ACTH and cortisol levels for patients with SS were 46.2 +/- 5.4 pg/ml and 15.7 +/- 1.6 microg/ml, respectively, and for controls 61.5 +/- 3.8 and 19.6 +/- 0.7, respectively (p < 0.05). Basal TSH levels were significantly elevated in patients (1.3 +/- 0.3 microIU/ml vs 0.9 +/- 0.05 microIU/ml; p < 0.05).
Conclusion: The above findings indicate hypoactivity of the HPA axis in patients with SS. Further studies are needed to definitively identify the locus of the defects and assess the significance of the pattern of the perturbations to the pathogenesis and expression of SS.