Abnormalities of Growth Hormone Secretion

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Panhypopituitarism. This term means decreased secretion of all the anterior pituitary hormones. The decrease in secretion may be congenital (present from birth), or it may occur suddenly or slowly at any time during life, most often resulting from a pituitary tumor that destroys the pituitary gland.

Dwarfism. Most instances of dwarfism result from generalized deficiency of anterior pituitary secretion (panhy-popituitarism) during childhood. In general, all the physical parts of the body develop in appropriate proportion to one another, but the rate of development is greatly decreased. A child who has reached the age of 10 years may have the bodily development of a child aged 4 to 5 years, and the same person at age 20 years may have the bodily development of a child aged 7 to 10 years.

A person with panhypopituitary dwarfism does not pass through puberty and never secretes sufficient quantities of gonadotropic hormones to develop adult sexual functions. In one third of such dwarfs, however, only growth hormone is deficient; these persons do mature sexually and occasionally reproduce. In one type of dwarfism (the African pygmy and the Levi-Lorain dwarf), the rate of growth hormone secretion is normal or high, but there is a hereditary inability to form somatomedin C, which is a key step for the promotion of growth by growth hormone.

Treatment with Human Growth Hormone. Growth hormones from different species of animals are sufficiently different from one another that they will cause growth only in the one species or, at most, closely related species. For this reason, growth hormone prepared from lower animals (except, to some extent, from primates) is not effective in human beings. Therefore, the growth hormone of the human being is called human growth hormone to distinguish it from the others.

In the past, because growth hormone had to be prepared from human pituitary glands, it was difficult to obtain sufficient quantities to treat patients with growth hormone deficiency, except on an experimental basis. However, human growth hormone can now be synthesized by Escherichia coli bacteria as a result of successful application of recombinant DNA technology. Therefore, this hormone is now available in sufficient quantities for treatment purposes. Dwarfs who have pure growth hormone deficiency can be completely cured if treated early in life. Human growth hormone may prove to be beneficial in other metabolic disorders because of its widespread metabolic functions.

Panhypopituitarism in the Adult. Panhypopituitarism first occurring in adulthood frequently results from one of three common abnormalities. Two tumorous conditions, craniopharyngiomas or chromophobe tumors, may compress the pituitary gland until the functioning anterior pituitary cells are totally or almost totally destroyed. The third cause is thrombosis of the pituitary blood vessels. This abnormality occasionally occurs when a new mother develops circulatory shock after the birth of her baby.

The general effects of adult panhypopituitarism are (1) hypothyroidism, (2) depressed production of gluco-corticoids by the adrenal glands, and (3) suppressed secretion of the gonadotropic hormones so that sexual functions are lost. Thus, the picture is that of a lethargic person (from lack of thyroid hormones) who is gaining weight (because of lack of fat mobilization by growth, adrenocorticotropic, adrenocortical, and thyroid hormones) and has lost all sexual functions. Except for the abnormal sexual functions, the patient can usually be treated satisfactorily by administering adrenocortical and thyroid hormones.

Gigantism. Occasionally, the acidophilic, growth hormone-producing cells of the anterior pituitary gland become excessively active, and sometimes even aci-dophilic tumors occur in the gland. As a result, large quantities of growth hormone are produced. All body tissues grow rapidly, including the bones. If the condition occurs before adolescence, before the epiphyses of the long bones have become fused with the shafts, height increases so that the person becomes a giant— up to 8 feet tall.

The giant ordinarily has hyperglycemia, and the beta cells of the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas are prone to degenerate because they become overactive owing to the hyperglycemia. Consequently, in about 10 per cent of giants, full-blown diabetes mellitus eventually develops.

In most giants, panhypopituitarism eventually develops if they remain untreated, because the gigantism is usually caused by a tumor of the pituitary gland that grows until the gland itself is destroyed. This eventual general deficiency of pituitary hormones usually causes death in early adulthood. However, once gigantism is diagnosed, further effects can often be blocked by microsurgical removal of the tumor or by irradiation of the pituitary gland.

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