Acute stress response of the HPA-axis in children with Prader-Willi syndrome: new insights and consequences for clinical practice

Lionne N. Grootjen*, Gerthe F. Kerkhof, Alicia F. Juriaans, Demi J. Trueba-Timmermans, Anita C.S. Hokken-Koelega

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background: Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) is associated with hypothalamic dysfunction. It has been reported that the HPA axis might show a delayed response during acute stress, and it is unknown whether the response of the HPA-axis during acute stress changes with age in children with PWS. Aim: To investigate the HPA-axis response during an overnight single-dose metyrapone (MTP) test in children with PWS and to assess if the response changes with age, whether it is delayed and if it changes with repeated testing over time. In addition, we evaluated different cut-off points of ACTH and 11-DOC levels to assess stress-related central adrenal insufficiency (CAI). Methods: An overnight single-dose MTP test was performed in 93 children with PWS. Over time, 30 children had a second test and 11 children a third one. Children were divided into age groups (0-2 years, 2-4 years, 4-8 years and > 8 years). Results: Most children did not have their lowest cortisol level at 7.30h, but at 04.00h. Their ACTH and 11-DOC peaks appeared several hours later, suggesting a delayed response. When evaluated according to a subnormal ACTH peak (13-33 pmol/L) more children had an subnormal response compared to evaluation based on a subnormal 11-doc peak (< 200 nmol/L). The percentage of children with a subnormal ACTH response ranged from 22.2 to 70.0% between the age groups, while the percentage of a subnormal 11-DOC response ranged from 7.7 to 20.6%. When using the ACTH peak for diagnosing acute-stress-related CAI, differences between age groups and with repeated testing over time were found, whereas there was no age difference when using the 11-DOC peak. Conclusion: Early morning ACTH or 11-DOC levels are not appropriate to determine acute stress-related CAI in children with PWS, thus multiple measurements throughout the night are needed for an accurate interpretation. Our data suggest a delayed response of the HPA-axis during acute stress. Using the 11-DOC peak for the test interpretation is less age-dependent than the ACTH peak. Repeated testing of the HPA-axis over time is not required, unless clinically indicated.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1146680
JournalFrontiers in Endocrinology
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright: Copyright © 2023 Grootjen, Kerkhof, Juriaans, Trueba-Timmermans and Hokken-Koelega.


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