Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Q & A: High Serum Estradiol in a Neutered Male Dog with Alopeica

My patient is a 2-year old male castrated Alaskan Malamute that presented with the main clinical sign of patches of nonpruritic alopecia on the dorsal lumbar area. There is no other hair loss or clinical signs. 

The serum chemistry panel, total and free T4, and TSH concentrations are all normal.

I did an ACTH stimulation test and send serum to the Clinical Endocrinology laboratory at the University of Tennessee for the adrenal sex hormone panel. These are the results, before and after ACTH stimulation:
  • Cortisol — Basal value 19 ng/ml (reference range, 2-56 ng/ml) Post-ACTH 96 ng/ml (reference range, 70-151 ng/ml)
  • Androstenedione — 0.15 ng/ml (reference range, 0.05-0.3 ng/ml) Post-ACTH 0.76 ng/ml (reference range, 0.24-2.0 ng/ml)
  • Progesterone — Basal 0.06 ng/ml (reference range, 03-.17 ng/ml) Post-ACTH 64 ng/ml (reference range, 22-1.45 ng/ml)
  • Aldosterone — Basal value 19 ng/ml (reference range, 2-56 ng/ml) Post-ACTH 96 ng/ml (reference range, 70-151 ng/ml)
  • Estradiol — Basal value 85 pg/ml (reference range, 23-65 pg/ml) Post-ACTH 75 pg/ml (reference range, 23-69 pg/ml)
My question: what would be the source of the high serum estradiol concentrations? Does it mean anything?

Should I start the dog on melatonin or mitotane?

My Response:

Estradiol (17β-estradiol) is a sex hormone produced in the ovary in the female. In the intact male, estradiol is also present, being produced as an active metabolic product of testosterone (1). In neutered dogs, The adrenal glands do not secrete estradiol directly but do normally secrete adrenal androgens (i.e., androstenedione and testosterone), even in the neutered dogs. A fraction of these adrenal androgens undergoes conversion to estradiol by an enzyme called aromatase in peripheral tissues (especially fat cells).

Conversion of circulating testosterone (steroid on left) to estadiol (on right).
The enzyme aromatase transforms the left-hand ring (the A-ring) of steroids to an aromatic state (hence the name) through oxidation and subsequent elimination of a methyl group.

So the source of the circulating estradiol that you are measuring could indirectly be the adrenal glands, but whether or not the high value found in this dog is clinically significant is difficult to know. These adrenal panels are difficult to interpret, and they are often abnormal in dogs even without clear evidence of typical or atypical Cushing's syndrome (2).

In a recent study of normal dogs published out of the University of Tennessee, they showed that the there was a wide range of variability in estradiol concentration both within and between the dogs (3). In addition, they reported that these estradiol concentrations often exceed the normal ranges established by the laboratory! This may account for why most of the adrenal panels I see have an abnormal sserum estradiol concentration.

Based on that study (3), I would ignore the results of these adrenal panels when the only abnormality is a high serum estradiol concentration.

Alopecia X is a term that has been used to describe dog that show dermatological signs that look similar to that seen with Cushing's disease (e.g., bilaterally symmetric alopecia and hyperpigmentation). This syndrome is common seen in the Nordic breeds, Pomeranians, and Chow chows. The cause of alopecia X is not understood (thus the term alopecia X!), but it is associated with hair cycle arrest.  Adrenal sex hormone abnormalities are no longer believed to play a role (4-6).

Since other labs are normal and since the dog is an Arctic breed, Alopecia X is certainly possible, and a relatively benign treatment such as melatonin can be tried. Click here to see a nice website with more info for vets and owners about alopecia X in Malamutes.

  1. Rijnberk A. Kooistra HS. Testes, In: Clinical Endocrinology of Dogs and Cats: An Illustrated Text. Second Edition. Schluetersche 2009.
  2. Behrend EN, Kennis R. Atypical Cushing's syndrome in dogs: arguments for and against. The Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice 2010;40:285-296.
  3. Frank LA, Mullins R, Rohrbach BW. Variability of estradiol concentration in normal dogs. Veterinary Dermatology 2010;21:490-3.
  4. Frank LA, Hnilica KA, Oliver JW. Adrenal steroid hormone concentrations in dogs with hair cycle arrest (Alopecia X) before and during treatment with melatonin and mitotane. Veterinary Dermatology 2004;15:278-284.
  5. Frank LA, Donnell RL, Kania SA. Oestrogen receptor evaluation in Pomeranian dogs with hair cycle arrest (alopecia X) on melatonin supplementation. Veterinary Dermatology 2006;17:252-258.
  6. Frank LA. Oestrogen receptor antagonist and hair regrowth in dogs with hair cycle arrest (alopecia X). Veterinary Dermatology 2007;18:63-66.

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