DOI: 10.1210/clinem/dgad454 ISSN: 0021-972X

Ovine CRH Stimulation and 8 mg Dexamethasone Suppression Tests in 323 Patients With ACTH-Dependent Cushing's Syndrome

Henrik Elenius, Raven McGlotten, Lynnette K Nieman
  • Biochemistry (medical)
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology
  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism



Determining the etiology of adrenocorticotropin (ACTH)-dependent Cushing's syndrome (CS) is often difficult. The gold standard test, inferior petrosal sinus sampling (IPSS), is expensive and not widely available.


Evaluate the performance of the corticotropin-releasing hormone stimulation test (CRH-ST) and the 8 mg high-dose dexamethasone suppression test (HDDST) in distinguishing Cushing's disease (CD) from ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS).


Retrospective review in a tertiary referral center. A total of 323 patients with CD or EAS (n = 78) confirmed by pathology or biochemical cure (n = 15) in 96% underwent CRH-ST and HDDST performed between 1986 and 2019. We calculated test sensitivity (Se), specificity (Sp), positive predictive value (PPV), negative predictive value, and diagnostic accuracy (DA) for the diagnosis of CD, and determined optimal response criteria for each test, alone and in combination.


The CRH-ST performed better than the HDDST (DA 91%, 95% CI 87-94% vs 75%, 95% CI 69-79%). Optimal response criteria were a ≥40% increase of ACTH and/or cortisol during the CRH test and a ≥69% suppression of cortisol during the HDDST. A ≥40% cortisol increase during the CRH test was the most specific measure, PPV 99%. Seventy-four percent of subjects had concordant positive CRH test and HDDST results, yielding Se 93%, Sp 98%, DA 95%, and PPV 99%, with a pretest likelihood of 85%. A proposed algorithm diagnosed 64% of patients with CD with near perfect accuracy (99%), obviating the need for IPSS.


CRH is a valuable tool to correctly diagnose the etiology of ACTH-dependent CS. Its current worldwide unavailability impedes optimal management of these patients.

More from our Archive