Glucagon and clonidine testing in the diagnosis of pheochromocytoma

Ehud Grossman, David S. Goldstein, Aaron Hoffman, Harry R. Keiser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We assessed the sensitivity and specificity of glucagon stimulation and clonidine suppression tests in the diagnosis of p heochrumocytoma in 113 hypertensive patients, 39 with and 74 without the tumor. In the glucagon stimulation test, blood was sampled 2 minutes after intravenous injection of 0.28 μmol (1 mg) glucagon, and in the clonidine suppression test, blood was sampled 3 hours after administration of oral clonidine, 130 μmol (03 mg)/70 kg body wt Baseline levels of catechols in antecubital venous blood were abnormal, with norepinephrine greater than 7.10 nmol/l (1, 200 pg/m), epinephrine greater than 1.51 nmol/l (276 pg/ml), norepinephrine/dihydroxyphenyiglycol (DHPG) ratio greater than 1.09, or dopa greater than 35.53 nmol/l (7, 000 pg/ml), in 30 of 39 patients with pheochromocytoma (sensitivity 77%) and 1 of 74 patients without pheochromocytoma (specificity 99%). Results of the glucagon test were abnormal (norepinephrine greater than 11.83 nmol/l [2, 000 pg/ml] or more than threefold increase from baseline) in 25 of 31 patients with pheochromocytoma (sensitivity 81%) and 0 of 72 patients without pheochromocytoma (specificity 100%). Results of the clonidine test were abnormal (after clonidine norepinephrine greater than 2.96 nmol/l [500 pg/ml] or less than 50% decrease from baseline) in 29 of 30 patients with pheochromocytoma (sensitivity 97%) and in 7 of 30 patients without pheochromocytoma (specificity 67%). Very high baseline levels of catechols therefore indicated the presence of pheochromocytoma, but there were several false-negative results when normal levels were obtained. The glucagon test alone was highly specific but not sensitive, and the clonidine test was highly sensitive but less specific. Of 50 patients undergoing both glucagon stimulation and clonidine suppression tests, the results of at least one test were abnormal in 22 of 22 patients with pheochromocytoma (sensitivity 100%) and in 6 of 28 patients without pheochromocytoma (specificity 79%). When both tests were negative, the diagnosis could be excluded, and the results were conclusive in 80% of the patients. Combined glucagon stimulation and clonidine suppression testing is worthwhile in the diagnosis of pheochromocytoma by blood tests.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)733-741
Number of pages9
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • Clonidine
  • Dihydroxyphenylglycol
  • Epinephrine
  • Glucagon
  • Norepinephrine
  • Pheochromocytoma


Dive into the research topics of 'Glucagon and clonidine testing in the diagnosis of pheochromocytoma'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this