Objective: To compare cortisol pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics mapped through several glucocorticoid sensitive pathways in patients on hydrocortisone substitution with or without an adrenal crisis.
Design: A post-hoc analysis of a previously conducted randomized controlled trial in patients with secondary adrenal insufficiency examining the effects of 2 weight-adjusted hydrocortisone doses.
Methods: Comparisons were primarily made on a hydrocortisone dose of 0.2-0.3 mg/kg/day for plasma cortisol and cortisone, 24-hour urinary steroid profile, the glucocorticoid sensitive tryptophan-kynurenine pathway, the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system and aspects of quality of life. Variables of interest were also analyzed on the hydrocortisone dose of 0.4-0.6 mg/kg/day.
Results: Out of 52 patients, 9 (17%) experienced at least one adrenal crisis (AC+ group) and 43 did not develop an adrenal crisis (AC- group) during an observation period of 10 years. 24-hour urinary excretion of cortisol and cortisone were lower in the AC+ group (0.05 [IQR 0.03; 0.05] vs. 0.09 [0.05; 0.12] µmol/24h, P=0.01and 0.13 [0.10; 0.23] vs. 0.24 [0.19; 0.38] µmol/24h, P=0.04, respectively). No differences in pharmacokinetics of cortisol were observed. Kynurenine concentrations were higher in the AC+ group (2.64 [2.43; 3.28] vs. 2.23 [1.82; 2.38] µmol/L, P=0.03) as was general fatigue (Z-scores 1.02 [-0.11; 1.42] vs. -0.16 [- 0.80; 0.28], P=0.04). On the higher hydrocortisone dose urinary excretion of cortisol and cortisone was still significantly lower between the AC- and AC + group. The differences in glucocorticoid sensitive variables disappeared.
Conclusion: Patients susceptible to an adrenal crisis demonstrated differences in cortisol and cortisone excretion as well as in pharmacodynamics when compared to patients who did not experience an adrenal crisis, suggesting a biological predisposition in certain patients for the development of an adrenal crisis.