Reversibility of impaired brain structures after transsphenoidal surgery in Cushing’s disease: a longitudinal study based on an artificial intelligence–assisted tool

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OBJECTIVE

Cushing’s disease (CD) involves brain impairments caused by excessive cortisol. Whether these impairments are reversible in remitted CD after surgery has long been controversial due to a lack of high-quality longitudinal studies. In this study the authors aimed to assess the reversibility of whole-brain changes in remitted CD after transsphenoidal surgery (TSS), and its correlations with clinical and hormonal parameters, in the largest longitudinal study cohort to date for CD patient brain analysis.

METHODS

Fifty patients with pathologically diagnosed CD and 36 matched healthy controls (HCs) were enrolled in a tertiary comprehensive hospital and national pituitary disease registry center in China. 3-T MRI studies were analyzed using an artificial intelligence–assisted web-based autosegmentation tool to quantify 3D brain volumes. Clinical parameters as well as levels of serum cortisol, adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), and 24-hour urinary free cortisol were collected for the correlation analysis. All CD patients underwent TSS and 46 patients achieved remission. All clinical, hormonal, and MRI parameters were reevaluated at the 3-month follow-up after surgery.

RESULTS

Widespread brain volume loss was observed in active CD patients compared with HCs, including total gray matter (p = 0.003, with false discovery rate [FDR] correction) and the frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal lobes; insula; cingulate lobe; and enlargement of lateral and third ventricles (p < 0.05, corrected with FDR). All affected brain regions improved significantly after TSS (p < 0.05, corrected with FDR). In patients with remitted CD, total gray matter and most brain regions (except the frontal and temporal lobes) showed full recovery of volume, with volumes that did not differ from those of HCs (p > 0.05, corrected with FDR). ACTH and serum cortisol changes were negatively correlated with brain volume changes during recovery (p < 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS

This study demonstrates the rapid reversal of total gray matter loss in remitted CD. The combination of full recovery areas and partial recovery areas after TSS is consistent with the incomplete recovery of memory and cognitive function observed in CD patients in clinical practice. Correlation analyses suggest that ACTH and serum cortisol levels are reliable serum biomarkers of brain recovery for clinical use after surgery.

ABBREVIATIONS ACTH = adrenocorticotrophic hormone; CD = Cushing’s disease; CS = Cushing’s syndrome; DTI = diffusion tensor imaging; FDR = false discovery rate; GC = glucocorticoid; HC = healthy control; TSS = transsphenoidal surgery; 24hUFC = 24-hour urinary free cortisol.
Article Information

Contributor Notes

Correspondence Bing Xing: Peking Union Medical College Hospital, Beijing, China. xingbingemail@aliyun.com.INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online January 3, 2020; DOI: 10.3171/2019.10.JNS191400.

B.H. and L.G. share first authorship of this work.

Disclosures Dr. Shi reports ownership in BrainNow, Ltd. Dr. Luo is an employee of BrainNow, Ltd.
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