Three patients with Cushing syndrome due to ectopic production of corticotropin underwent total thymectomy on the basis of elevated concentrations of corticotropin in selective samples from thymic veins but in the absence of a radiographically detectible thymic mass. In one patient, radiologic examination demonstrated hyperplasia of neuroendocrine cells staining positively for corticotropin throughout the thymus but no discrete mass. This patient had complete remission after total thymectomy. The other two patients had no evidence of an intrathymic source of corticotropin, and both had persistent Cushing syndrome. Elevated levels of corticotropin in thymic vein samples may reflect corticotropin production by pulmonary bronchial carcinoid tumors, mediastinal metastases, thymic carcinoids, or diffuse hyperplasia of intrathymic neuroendocrine elements. In the absence of a demonstrable intrathymic mass, corticotropin gradients in thymic veins do not reliably indicate a thymic source of corticotropin and should not necessarily be used as a basis for exploratory thoracotomy or blind thymectomy.
View details for Web of Science ID A1992HZ68200016
View details for PubMedID 1319078