Adult hypopituitarism with growth hormone deficiency (GHD) results in reduced exercise capacity, detrimental changes in body composition and lipid profiles and may be associated with an excess cardiovascular mortality. Endothelial dysfunction is an early event in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis and predisposes to the deposition of unstable atherosclerotic plaques. We have used a noninvasive method to assess endothelial function in the brachial arteries of a group of treated hypopituitary adults with GHD, and a group of healthy age-and sex-matched controls.
Seventeen hypopituitary adults with GHD (13 male, 4 female) aged 26–54 years were studied. Each patient was receiving standard replacement therapy for all other hormonal deficiencies such that all target hormones were maintained in the normal reference range. All observations obtained were compared with those made in age- and sex-matched control subjects. All study subjects had no identifiable risk factors for endothelial dysfunction.
Using an ultrasound vessel wall tracking system, the diameter of the left brachial artery was measured at rest, in response to reactive hyperaemia (endothelium-dependent dilation) and following sublingual glyceryl trinitrate (GTN) (endothelium-independent vasodilatation). We also measured fasting lipids, insulin, plasma glucose, glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) and IGF-1, and studied the relationship of these parameters to endothelial function.
Flow mediated endothelium-dependent dilatation (FMD), expressed as a percentage change from resting base-line diameter, was significantly impaired in the GHD group (3.70 ± 2.36% vs. 7.30 ± 2.42%, P < 0.001). In contrast, GTN-mediated dilatation was similar in both groups. There were no differences in total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol or plasma triglyceride between the groups. Both fasting insulin (27.1 ± 18.1 vs. 15.89 ± 6.65 mU/l, P < 0.05) and glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) levels (5.29 ± 0.43 vs. 4.91 ± 0.43%, P < 0.05) were significantly higher in the GHD group. FMD in both groups showed an inverse relationship with total cholesterol (r = − 0.58, P < 0.05, GHD and r = − 0.55, P < 0.05 controls). However, in the GHD subjects, there was a strong inverse relationship between FMD and LDL-cholesterol (r = − 0.81, P < 0.0001). No other relationships were noted between FMD and any other metabolic parameters, or characteristics of GHD.
Endothelial dysfunction is present in GH deficient adults prior to the onset of overt atherosclerotic disease. The similar glucose yet elevated fasting insulin levels imply a state of relative insulin insensitivity. The strong inverse correlation between endothelial dysfunction and LDL-cholesterol suggests a possible aetiological role for LDL-cholesterol in the pathogenesis of any excess cardiovascular risk associated with adult hypopituitarism.