The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism

Bioinactive ACTH causing glucocorticoid deficiency.

PMID 23293326


A 4-year-old girl and a 4-month-old boy presented with hypoglycemia, normal electrolytes, low cortisol, and high ACTH. A diagnosis of primary adrenal insufficiency was made and initial treatment was with glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids. The genes known to cause ACTH resistance were normal. Whole exome sequencing revealed that the girl was compound heterozygous for POMC mutations: one previously described null allele and one novel p.R8C mutation in the sequence encoding ACTH and α-MSH. The boy was homozygous for the p.R8C mutation. The p.R8C ACTH mutant is immunoreactive, but the mutant peptides, ACTH-R8C and α-MSH-R8C, are bioinactive. Methods included whole exome sequencing, Sanger sequencing, peptide synthesis, ACTH immunoradiometric assay, hormone binding, and activation assays in cells expressing melanocortin receptors. ACTH-R8C was immunoreactive but failed to bind and activate cAMP production in melanocortin-2 receptor (MC2R)-expressing cells, and α-MSH-R8C failed to bind and stimulate cAMP production in MC1R- and MC4R-expressing cells. These are the first documented cases of glucocorticoid deficiency due to the secretion of an ACTH molecule that lacks biological bioactivity but conserves immunoreactivity. POMC mutations should thus be considered in patients presenting with apparent ACTH resistance. Our findings also highlight a limitation to immunoassay-based diagnostics and demonstrate the value of genetic analysis. Establishing the molecular etiology of the disorder in our patients allowed cessation of the unnecessary mineralocorticoids. Finally, discovery of this mutation indicates that in humans, the amino acid sequence His(6)Phe(7)Arg(8)Trp(9) is important not only for cAMP activation but also for ACTH binding to MC2R.

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α-Melanocyte stimulating hormone, ≥97% (HPLC)