Digital Features for this Adis Drug Q&A can be found at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.15001206.
FormalPara Adis evaluation of metyrapone (Metopirone®) in the management of Cushing’s syndrome
Indicated in the EU for the management of patients with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome and as a diagnostic test of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) insufficiency and in the differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome
Associated with a rapid onset of action (≈ 2 h), a reduction in cortisol levels and improvements of clinical and/or biochemical features of Cushing’s syndrome
Efficacy maintained in the long term
Generally well tolerated, with most adverse events being gastrointestinal

What is the rationale for using metyrapone in Cushing’s syndrome?

Metyrapone, a pyridine derivative, was initially used as a test substance for the differential diagnosis of hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis disorders; later, a role of metyrapone for the treatment of hypercortisolism was established [1]. Endogenous Cushing’s syndrome is a rare disease associated with substantial morbidity and mortality [2], resulting from cortisol hypersecretion. Cushing’s syndrome can be broadly grouped into adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-dependent [≈ 80%; including ACTH-secreting pituitary adenoma (Cushing’s disease; 60–70%) and ectopic ACTH-syndrome (EAS; 5–10%)] and ACTH-independent (≈ 20%; including cortisol-secreting adrenal adenoma, adrenocortical cancer, ACTH-independent macronodular adrenal hyperplasia and primary pigmented nodular adrenal disease) forms of the disease [1, 3].

Treatment of Cushing’s syndrome aims to eliminate the primary cause of hypercortisolism and achieve remission, in order to eliminate the associated signs and symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life [4]. Effective treatment of Cushing’s syndrome includes normalisation of cortisol levels, as well as improvement or normalisation of comorbidities associated with hypercortisolism (e.g. hypertension) by directly treating the cause of Cushing’s syndrome and through relevant adjunctive treatments (e.g. antihypertensive therapy) [4]. Although surgery is the mainstay treatment for the majority of patients with Cushing’s syndrome, medical therapy (including steroidogenesis inhibitors) is increasingly being used, particularly when surgery is not indicated or is unsuccessful, or while waiting for radiotherapy to be effective [4, 5].

Metyrapone (Metopirone®) is approved in the EU for the management of patients with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome. Table 1 provides a summary of the prescribing information for oral metyrapone as approved in the EU [6]. Consult local prescribing information for further details. Discussion of the use of metyrapone in the other approved indications [as a diagnostic test for ACTH insufficiency and in the differential diagnosis of ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome in the EU [6], or as a diagnostic drug for testing hypothalamic-pituitary ACTH function in the US [7]] is beyond the scope of this review.

Table 1 Summary of the prescribing information of metyrapone (Metopirone®) in endogenous Cushing’s syndrome in the EU [6]

How does metyrapone work in Cushing’s syndrome?

Metyrapone exerts its pharmacological effect in Cushing’s syndrome by reducing cortisol production in the adrenals by potently inhibiting the 11-beta-hydroxylase enzyme (CYP11B1), which is responsible for the final step in cortisol synthesis (Fig. 1) [1, 43, 44]; the resultant reduction in serum cortisol levels is associated with a consequent increase in the concentrations of ACTH and 11-deoxycortisol. The compensatory increase in ACTH levels may drive further steroidogenesis and overcome the blockade exerted by metyrapone (i.e. cortisol escape) [44].

Fig. 1
figure 1

Metyrapone inhibition of adrenal steroid biosynthesis [1, 44, 54]. Figure adapted from the EMA Public Assessment Report: Ketoconazole HRA [54]. A red cross indicates metyrapone inhibition of the enzymatic step. HSD hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, P450scc cholesterol side chain cleavage enzyme

Metyrapone and its active metabolite, metyrapol, dose-dependently inhibit the two highly homologous isoforms of 11-hydroxylase, 11β-hydroxylase (CYP11B1) and 18-hydroxylase (CYP11B2), and consequently inhibit cortisol and aldosterone production [1, 44]. In HAC15 cell lines, the half maximal inhibitory concentrations of metyrapone were 0.0678 μM and 0.0739 μM under basal conditions and ACTH stimulation, respectively [45].

Metyrapone has also demonstrated extra-adrenal effects by influencing peripheral glucocorticoid metabolism [46], that contribute to the reduction of plasma cortisol levels [47, 48]. Following oral administration of metyrapone (40mg/kg) in healthy volunteers, the levels of cortisol begin to decrease within 15–30 min, with maximal reduction in cortisol levels obtained in ≈ 2 h and maintained for ≈ 7 h post-dose [49]; this duration of effect allows for more flexibility in adjusting the frequency of dosing (i.e. three or four times daily).

Following oral administration, metyrapone is rapidly absorbed and eliminated from the plasma [6]; the peak plasma concentration is reached 1 h after administration [50] and the elimination half-life of metyrapone is ≈ 2 h [6]. Metyrapol, the main active metabolite of metyrapone, takes twice as long as metyrapone to be eliminated from plasma. Following an initial dose of metyrapone (4.5 g), 5.3% and 38.5% of the total dose was excreted in the urine as metyrapone and metyrapol [6].

How should metyrapone be used in Cushing’s syndrome?

The two ways to use steroidogenesis inhibitors, including metyrapone, are in a dose titration or a block-and-replace regimen [44]. In a dose titration, the initial dose is up-titrated in accordance with the biochemical response, whereas in a block-and-replace regimen, a high dose is usually initiated and quickly up-titrated to the maximum tolerated dose with the addition of concomitant glucocorticoid replacement therapy. The aim of a block-and-replace regimen is to completely suppress cortisol production and replace glucocorticoids to avoid hypoadrenalism. The choice between the two treatment regimens is largely driven by the clinician’s experience and preference, although there are cases where a block-and-replace is the preferred option (e.g. evidence of cyclical disease, very severe hypercortisolaemia). Albeit the safety of a block-and-replace regimen, care is needed to ensure that incompletely treated and persistent hypercortisolaemia is not made worse by the unnecessary addition of exogenous glucocorticoids [44].

Metyrapone capsules are indicated in the EU for the management of patients with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome (Table 1) [6]. Metyrapone may be initiated at a dose of 750 mg/day (3 capsules), although the initial metyrapone daily dose may vary depending on the severity of hypercortisolism and the cause of Cushing’s syndrome (Table 1). A lower initial dose of metyrapone may be used in patients with mild Cushing’s syndrome, adrenal adenoma or hyperplasia, whereas a higher initial dose (up to 1500 mg/day; 6 capsules) may be used for patients with severe disease [6]. The daily dose of metyrapone should be adjusted after a few days, with weekly monitoring to be performed to allow for further dose adjustments as necessary; less frequent monitoring is required once cortisol levels are close to optimal levels (Table 1). Alternatively, a block-and-replace regimen may be used as appropriate (e.g. in case of rapid dose-escalation or for patients with cyclic Cushing’s syndrome), where physiological corticosteroid replacement therapy is added to complete cortisol blockade by metyrapone; physiological corticosteroid replacement therapy should be initiated once serum or urine cortisol is in the normal range and the metyrapone doses are increased to achieve complete suppression of cortisol secretion [6].

Treatment with metyrapone may lead to a rapid decrease in circulating levels of cortisol (and potentially to hypocortisolism/hypoadrenalism); therefore, monitoring of clinical and biochemical responses under the supervision of a specialist is recommended (Table 1) [6]. Given that the interaction potential of metyrapone is partly unknown, caution is recommended when initiating or discontinuing treatment with other medicinal products; suitable action should be taken if changes are seen in the effect and/or safety of metyrapone or the co-administered drug [6].

Given that the data for the use of metyrapone in pregnant women are limited, the use of metyrapone in pregnancy is not recommended unless clearly necessary; the efficacy of metyrapone in controlling hypercortisolism in pregnant women has been demonstrated in a limited number of case reports (Table 1).

Currently available immunoassay methods for serum cortisol are susceptible to interference in metyrapone-treated patients because of increased steroid precursors [51,52,53]; dose adjustments of metyrapone should be based on cortisol measurements using a reliable assay without the potential for cross-reactivity (Table 1).

What is the evidence for using metyrapone to treat patients with Cushing’s syndrome?

Evidence for the efficacy (range, 50–70% across key studies) of metyrapone in the treatment of Cushing’s syndrome is demonstrated in prospective (Table 2) and retrospective (Table 3) studies, as well as case series and individual case reports. Based on the available data, treatment with metyrapone was associated with a rapid onset of action and was effective in reducing cortisol levels and improving clinical and/or biochemical features and cortisol-related comorbidities of the disease (Tables 2 and 3). Metyrapone has been widely used in the management of Cushing’s syndrome for more than six decades [44], with cumulative literature data (including case series and case reports) demonstrating that metyrapone has been used in ≈ 700 patients with Cushing’s syndrome of all aetiologies; the majority (56%) of published cases were those of Cushing’s disease [26% of published cases were EAS and 16% of cases were adrenal adenoma tumours (benign and malignant) and hyperplasia] [55]. Metyrapone was also used in a range of clinical settings, including as a primary treatment if surgery is not feasible or after surgical failure, or as a presurgery treatment; metyrapone was used as monotherapy or in combination with other agents (e.g. ketoconazole, mitotane) [Tables 2 and 3].

Table 2 Summary of key (n > 6) prospective studies demonstrating the efficacy of metyrapone in the treatment of Cushing’s syndrome
Table 3 Summary of key (n > 6) retrospective studies demonstrating the efficacy of metyrapone in the treatment of Cushing’s syndrome

Metyrapone has a rapid onset of action and is an effective long-term medical treatment to control serum cortisol levels in patients with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome. Some key evidence is available from a recent prospective, observational longitudinal study of patients with Cushing’s syndrome (= 31) treated with metyrapone for ≥ 1 month as primary treatment (n = 16) or after surgical failure (n = 15) [5]. The median treatment duration was 9 months and the median metyrapone dose at the last visit was 1000 mg (4 capsules); 25, 18, 13 and 6 patients, respectively, completed 3, 6, 12 and 24 months of metyrapone treatment [5]. Metyrapone had a rapid onset of action and sustained efficacy, achieving urinary free cortisol (UFC) normalisation (primary endpoint) in the majority of treated patients (Table 2) [5]. After the first month of metyrapone treatment, the median reduction in mean UFC (mUFC) levels from baseline was − 67%; after 3 months of treatment, there was a median reduction from baseline of 70% (Table 2) [5]. Notably, amongst patients with severe hypercortisolism at baseline (= 10), the median reduction in mUFC levels after the first month of treatment was − 86% [5]. Normalisation of mUFC was achieved in the first month of treatment amongst patients with mild, moderate and severe hypercortisolism, whereas control of cortisol secretion was achieved within 3–6 months of treatment amongst patients with very severe hypercortisolism [5]. At the time of the last visit, the majority of patients had normalised mUFC (irrespective of hypercortisolism severity at baseline) [Table 2] [5].

Mean late-night salivary cortisol (mLNSC) levels were reduced from baseline (all patients presented with elevated levels at baseline), but remained above the upper limit of normal (ULN) at each scheduled visit [5]. The median reduction in mLNSC levels from baseline was 57% at 1 month and 63% after 3 months of treatment; in the subset of patients with severe hypercortisolism at baseline, the median reduction in mLNSC levels was 80% after 1 month of treatment. Over time, the proportion of patients at each scheduled visit achieving mLNSC normalisation increased steadily reaching 37% at the last scheduled visit (Table 2), with complete recovery of cortisol rhythm at the last available visit obtained in patients with normal mUFC or mild hypercortisolism at baseline. A longer treatment period (3–6 months) was needed to reduce mLNSC levels amongst patients who had severe or very severe hypercortisolism at baseline [5].

When considering different types of Cushing’s syndrome, baseline characteristics of patients with EAS were less favourable (e.g. older age, higher baseline levels of mUFC) compared with Cushing’s disease and bilateral adrenal Cushing’s syndrome patients; however, metyrapone doses and cortisol levels were generally similar across the different subtypes of Cushing’s syndrome at the time of the last visit [5]. Escape from metyrapone treatment, associated with worsening of cortisol-related signs and symptoms, occurred in three patients (who had normalised mUFC levels) after 9 months of metyrapone treatment [5]. There was a significant (p < 0.001 vs. baseline) weight reduction in patients who had mUFC < ULN at the last visit, and after ≥ 3 and 6 months of metyrapone treatment. Some patients with baseline cortisol-related comorbidities required medication adjustments (Table 2).

The rapid onset of action and efficacy of metyrapone in patients with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome were also confirmed in results of the 12-week interim analysis of PROMPT, the first prospective study to document the efficacy of metyrapone using modern assay techniques [56]. The PROMPT study was an open-label, single-arm, international phase III/IV study that investigated the efficacy of metyrapone in adults who were newly diagnosed with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome (any aetiology, except advanced adrenal carcinoma) or with recurrent or persistent Cushing’s disease (after transsphenoidal surgery) [56]. Eligible patients had to have three UFC values (measured over 24 h) each ≥ 50% above the ULN (165 nmol/24 h). The starting dose of metyrapone was based on the severity of hypercortisolism at baseline (≤ 5 or > 5 × ULN), and was administered in 3–4 divided doses and individually titrated based on cortisol levels in urine and serum over 12 weeks to achieve normal urine and/or serum cortisol levels (period 1: dose-titration period). After 12 weeks, patients who had a mean value of three UFCs (mUFC) less than twice the ULN could continue to receive metyrapone for another 24 weeks (period 2: optional extension period) [56].

After 12 weeks of treatment with metyrapone, the majority of patients were responders (Table 2). The primary endpoint of mUFC normalisation (i.e. mUFC ≤ ULN) was achieved by 47% of patients; an additional 33% of patients had ≥ 50% decrease in mUFC from baseline after 12 weeks of treatment with metyrapone, without achieving normalisation (i.e. partial responders) [56]. Normalisation of LNSC was observed in 22% of treated patients. The decrease in median mUFC and LNSC from baseline was rapid, starting at week 1 and continuing to decrease until week 12 (Table 2); the median time to eucortisolaemia was 34 days [56]. Of note, 86% had mUFC ≤ 2 × ULN at week 12 and were eligible to enter the extension period of 6 months [57].

In terms of secondary endpoints, metyrapone normalised or improved physical signs and symptoms in the majority of patients (66%), was associated with a median decrease of − 4 and − 5 mmHg in systolic and diastolic blood pressure and a 10 points improvement in Cushing’s quality of life (QoL), at week 12. Moreover, metyrapone was generally associated with relative improvements from baseline in fasting plasma insulin, HbA1c, fasting plasma glucose and cholesterol [56].

Results of the 6-month extension of the PROMPT trial demonstrated that metyrapone treatment was associated with a sustained efficacy (Table 2) [58]. At the time of the last assessment of extension (week 36), mUFC normalisation was evident in 49% of patients who completed the extension (= 35), and a further 23% of patients had a decrease of mUFC ≥ 50% from baseline without achieving normalisation. At week 36, 27% of patients had LNSC normalisation; clinical improvements were also sustained over time (Table 2) [58].

Further support for the long-term efficacy of metyrapone was demonstrated in a subset of patients (n = 38) who were treated for > 6 months in the largest (= 195) retrospective study [treatment duration range, 3 days to 11.6 years] (Tables 3 and 4) [59]. Metyrapone monotherapy was associated with improvements in all monitoring tests during treatment and at the last review on treatment (Tables 3 and 4); patients on a block-and-replace regimen were more likely to achieve mean cortisol day-curve (CDC) levels < 150 nmol/L [59]. Improvements in cortisol levels were also evident amongst 81% and 89% of patients who had CDC or 9 a.m. cortisol levels monitored but did not achieve the normalised cortisol target or biochemical targets, respectively [59]. Improvements in biochemical markers were evident amongst patients treated with metyrapone monotherapy before surgery, monotherapy as secondary treatment, when used as long-term treatment and combination treatment (Tables 3 and 4).

Table 4 Efficacy of metyrapone in the treatment of Cushing’s syndrome at the last review on treatment in a large retrospective study (n = 195)a in the UK [59]

The efficacy of metyrapone as presurgical treatment has been demonstrated in a number of studies (Tables 2 and 3). One example is a retrospective study of the effect of the preoperative effects of steroidogenesis inhibitors (metyrapone and/or ketoconazole) in 62 patients with Cushing’s syndrome (Table 3). Patients were classified based on biochemical (UFC within normal range of 50–280 nmol/24 h) and clinical control [defined as the disappearance or significant improvement of signs and symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome as described at the start of treatment, and control of comorbidities (hypertension and diabetes that were present when treatment was started)] of hypercortisolism at the end of treatment (i.e. day of surgery) [60]. Patients who were controlled or partially controlled underwent surgery 4–6 weeks after UFC normalisation, whereas patients who were not controlled with medication underwent planned surgery after several unsuccessful titrations. The majority (52%) of patients achieved normalisation of UFC [60]. Amongst patients treated with metyrapone alone, UFC normalisation was achieved in 57% of patients, of whom 46% also achieved clinical control. UFC normalisation was achieved by 45% of patients treated with metyrapone and ketoconazole combination therapy. Long-term post-operative remission was achieved by the majority (76%) of patients with Cushing’s disease who underwent transsphenoidal surgery (Table 3).

Presurgical medical cortisol suppression with metyrapone in Cushing’s disease was also associated with suppression of postoperative cortisol concentrations and increased rates of long-term remission (Table 3) [61]. Moreover, adequate pretreatment and postoperative serum cortisol demonstrated a positive relationship (= 0.02) to long-term remission in a univariate logistic regression analysis [61].

Metyrapone demonstrated efficacy in the management of acute psychiatric states which may occur in Cushing’s syndrome. When administered to control excessive cortisol production in 32 patients with psychiatric manifestations associated with Cushing’s syndrome, oral metyrapone (0.5–6.0 g/day) was associated with resolution of these manifestations in the majority of those severely or markedly affected [15]. When used preoperatively in a 56-year old patient with Cushing’s syndrome, right adrenal adenoma and major depression [score of 27 on the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D)], metyrapone (1.5 g/day) was associated with an improvement of the depressive state (score of 7 on the HAM-D rating scale) [62].

The efficacy of metyrapone was also demonstrated in ACTH-independent macronodular adrenocortical hyperplasia (AIMAH) [currently known as primary bilateral macronodular adrenocortical hyperplasia [63]], a rare form of Cushing’s syndrome that usually affects the elderly, for whom standard therapy (i.e. bilateral adrenalectomy) is contraindicated. In a case report, metyrapone (500–750 mg/day; 2–3 capsules) treatment was effective in treating a patient with AIMAH for several months, with a reduction of cortisol levels to the normal range, as well as amelioration of hypertension and diabetes mellitus [64]. Furthermore, long-term treatment with metyrapone (1000 mg; 4 capsules) also improved severe hypercortisolaemia in a patient with AIMAH (7 years) [65]. Earlier reports of long-term (3–4 years) metyrapone therapy in patients with bilateral adrenal hyperplasia because of ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome and McCune-Albright syndrome also demonstrated an improvement in hypercortisolaemia [9, 66].

Patients with adrenal incidentalomas (AI) with mild autonomous cortisol secretion (ACS) [also known as subclinical Cushing’s syndrome] have abnormal circadian cortisol rhythm as well as elevated serum interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels (cardiovascular risk marker), as shown in a phase 1/2a prospective study [67]. Serum cortisol levels (6–10 p.m. and 10 p.m.–2 a.m.) in these patients (= 6) were significantly (p < 0.05) higher than in patients with AI without ACS (n = 6) or healthy volunteers (n = 8). In patients with AI/ACS, administration of metyrapone 500 mg (2 capsules) at 6 p.m. and 250 mg (1 capsule) at 10 p.m. was associated with a reset of cortisol rhythm and salivary cortisone rhythm (to normal physiological levels) as indicated by normalisation of cortisol exposure and area under the concentration–time curve of salivary cortisol; serum IL-6 levels were also normalised to levels similar to those observed in the two control groups [67].

What is the safety and tolerability profile of metyrapone?

Metyrapone is generally well tolerated when used in the treatment of patients with Cushing’s syndrome, based on the available evidence. The most commonly reported adverse events with metyrapone are gastrointestinal disturbances, which can be minimised by taking metyrapone with milk or after meals [6]; adverse events most commonly occurred when initiating treatment or increasing dosage [56]. For example, in the long-term, metyrapone was generally well tolerated, with adverse events reported in 25% of patients, most commonly gastrointestinal upset (23%) and hypoadrenalism (7%, with symptoms of dizziness, hypotension, with biochemical confirmation); adverse events were usually transient and typically occurred following metyrapone initiation (within 2 weeks) or dose increase [59].

Central nervous system adverse events (including dizziness, sedation, headache) may occur with metyrapone treatment [6]. For example, dizziness was reported in 3 patients in the real-life study (n = 31) [5]. Given that dizziness and sedation can occur with metyrapone, patients should not drive or operate machinery until these effects have passed [6].

Adrenal insufficiency is the main risk of metyrapone treatment, but is manageable [6]. There were no occurrences of adrenal insufficiency in the real-life study [5]. In the largest case series of 195 patients, hypoadrenalism occurred in 7% of patients [59]. Hypoadrenalism was managed by the addition of a glucocorticoid (i.e. changing the regimen to a block-and-replace) or by temporary cover with a glucocorticoid and simultaneous reduction of metyrapone dose. Safety results of the 12-week interim analysis of the PROMPT study indicate that reversible adrenal insufficiency was reported in 12% of patients during the titration period [56, 57] and in no patients during the 6-month extension period [58]. Episodes of adrenal insufficiency were managed either by reduction of metyrapone dose or temporary withdrawal with or without the temporary addition of glucocorticoid [58].

Accumulation of the adrenal steroid precursor, 11-desoxycorticosterone, with mineralocorticoid activity may occur, leading to hypertension, oedema, or hypokalaemia [4, 6]. Monitoring of blood pressure and serum potassium is advised and corrective treatment may be needed. In the PROMPT study, peripheral oedema occurred in 14% of patients (all before week 12), hypokalaemia in 8% of patients (all before week 12) and hypertension in 14% of patients (with 10% before week 12); all events were of mild or moderate in severity, and were resolved for the majority of patients under treatment [58].

An increase of blood pressure levels occurred in two normotensive patients receiving metyrapone treatment in the real-life study, both of whom were controlled with medical monotherapy; amongst hypertensive patients (= 24), uptitration of antihypertensive treatment was required in five patients, while four patients stopped their antihypertensive medication during the study [5]. Overall, there was no increase of systolic or diastolic blood pressure.

Other potential adverse events during long-term treatment with metyrapone, include new onset or worsening of hirsutism or acne, as a result of androgenic precursors accumulation (because of cortisol synthesis blockade) [4]; these adverse events have not been consistently reported [hirsutism was not reported and worsening acne occurred in one patient during treatment in the largest retrospective study [59]; hirsutism occurred in five female patients (with alopecia in one patient, leading to discontinuation of metyrapone) in the real-life study [5]; hirsutism occurred in three female patients (leading to treatment discontinuation in one case) during the 6-month extension of PROMPT [58]].

The adverse events of hypertension, oedema, hypokalaemia and hyperandrogenism can be controlled by adding spironolactone, which blocks the androgen and mineralocorticoid receptors [74].

What is the current clinical position of metyrapone in Cushing’s syndrome?

Metyrapone is a useful treatment option in the management of Cushing’s syndrome. Evidence for the efficacy and safety of metyrapone in the treatment of Cushing’s syndrome is derived from more than six decades of use in clinical practice [44], as well as results of studies (including in the long term) that demonstrate that metyrapone has a rapid onset of action, is effective and generally well tolerated. Metyrapone treatment was associated with control of hypercortisolism (assessed using UFC and/or LNSC), as well as improvements in the clinical and/or biochemical features and cortisol-related comorbidities of the disease. The efficacy of metyrapone was demonstrated across all aetiologies of the disease and across a range of clinical settings. Genetic differences in steroidogenic enzymes may contribute to inter-individual variability in the responses to adrenal-blocking agents in Cushing’s syndrome [75]. A common polymorphism in the CYP17A1 gene was found to influence the therapeutic response to steroidogenesis inhibitors (metyrapone and/or ketoconazole) in patients with Cushing’s syndrome [75]. Gastrointestinal disturbances were the most commonly reported adverse events with metyrapone treatment. Of note, when considering the tolerability profile of metyrapone in patients with Cushing’s syndrome, it may be difficult to establish whether adverse events are related to treatment or to the natural history of Cushing’s syndrome.

The current Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guidelines for the treatment of Cushing’s syndrome include recommendations for the use of steroidogenesis inhibitors (including metyrapone) as second-line treatment after transsphenoidal selective adenomectomy in patients with Cushing’s disease (with or without radiation therapy/radiosurgery), as primary treatment of EAS in patients with occult or metastatic EAS, and as adjunctive treatment to reduce cortisol levels in adrenocortical carcinoma [4]. Clinical normalisation (using cortisol levels as a proxy endpoint) is the goal of medical therapy, and can be achieved with a block-and-replace regimen or with a normalisation strategy to achieve eucortisolism. The choice of medical therapy should be driven by efficacy, individual patient factors and cost. The guidelines also acknowledge the role of combination therapy with metyrapone plus ketoconazole to enhance the control of severe hypercotisolaemia [4].

The cortisol circadian rhythm is frequently disrupted in patients with Cushing’s syndrome [67]. UFC is commonly used in studies and clinical practice to monitor the response to cortisol-lowering drugs in patients with Cushing’s disease; however; relying solely on UFC cannot provide information on circadian fluctuations of cortisol or midnight cortisol levels [76]. LNSC, like UFC, has an established role in screening for hypercortisolism and identifying recurrence after surgery; furthermore, it has been shown that LNSC plays a role in the morbidity of dysregulated cortisol secretion [77, 78]. Findings of an exploratory analysis evaluating LNSC during a phase III study of medical treatment in Cushing’s disease indicate that better clinical outcomes are evident for patients in whom mUFC and mLNSC measurements are controlled; the use of mUFC and mLNSC can offer a comprehensive assessment of response to treatment in patients with Cushing’s disease [76]. Interestingly, results of a prospective case study indicate that multiple salivary cortisol measurements may be a useful tool to visualise the diurnal cortisol rhythm and to optimise the dose and timing of metyrapone during treatment in patients with Cushing’s syndrome [79]. Metyrapone contributes to restoring the circadian rhythm [5, 56, 67, 79] and lowers the nocturnal cortisol exposure, while leaving the cortisol levels unaltered throughout the rest of the day in subclinical Cushing’s syndrome. Improvement/control of elevated cortisol levels is also required during the rest of the day in patients with Cushing’s syndrome; the rapid onset of action of metyrapone together with its short duration of action, allows the timing and dosage to be fine-tuned, and may enable improvement or restoration of normal circadian rhythm.