Idiopathic hypothalamic diabetes insipidus, pituitary stalk thickening, and the occult intracranial germinoma in children and adolescents

Sudha L. Mootha, Anthony J. Barkovich, Melvin M. Grumbach, Michael S. Edwards, Stephen E. Gitelman, Selna L. Kaplan, Felix A. Conte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

170 Scopus citations


We report nine consecutive children and adolescents [five females and four males; aged 2 yr 8 months (m) to 18 yr 1 m] studied over the last 5 yr with idiopathic central diabetes insipidus. In addition to vasopressin deficiency, anterior pituitary hormone deficiencies were detected, either on evaluation at presentation or during follow-up studies over the following 3 yr. Four patients had an increased concentration of plasma PRL. One patient had multiple pituitary hormone deficiencies at diagnosis, and two others developed the same by 21 m of follow-up. Brain magnetic resonance imaging scans, performed at presentation, were originally interpreted as normal in four of nine patients, except for absence of the bright posterior pituitary signal; after retrospective review, two of nine were considered normal. All of the brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans showed positive findings by 14 m of follow-up. The first abnormal finding in all patients was isolated pituitary stalk thickening. Evaluation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for hCG was positive in three of eight evaluated patients; the three positive CSF values were found at presentation and 3 and 9 m after presentation. All eight patients assessed were negative for CSF α-fetoprotein and cytology, and no patient had serum tumor markers. Transsphenoidal biopsy of the lesion in seven of nine patients showed a germinoma in six patients and inflammatory cells in one. The six patients with documented germinoma comprise 31% of the intracranial germinomas diagnosed in this age group at the University of California-San Francisco during the last 5 yr. The patient with mononuclear inflammatory cells on biopsy along with one other patient have had spontaneous resolution of their stalk thickening. So-called 'idiopathic' central diabetes insipidus warrants close follow-up to determine the etiology, especially if anterior pituitary hormone deficiencies are detected. Normal brain MRI scans or scans that show isolated pituitary stalk thickening merit follow-up with serial contrast enhanced brain MRI for the early detection of an evolving occult hypothalamic-stalk lesion. CSF evaluation is recommended at presentation because elevated CSF hCG may precede MRI abnormalities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1362-1367
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical


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