"Hook effect" in prolactinomas: Case report and review of literature

Todd W. Frieze, Dennis P. Mong, Maureen K. Koops

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Objective: To present a case of the "hook effect" occurring in the prolactin immunoassay in a patient with giant prolactinoma and to review this phenomenon. Methods: We describe the clinical, biochemical, radiologic, and pathologic data of a patient with a giant prolactinoma, in which dilution testing of serum prolactin levels confirmed the presence of the hook effect. We discuss the historical and mechanistic aspects of the hook effect and then review its occurrence with the prolactin assay. Results: A 65-year-old man sought medical attention because of headaches, personality changes, and "bulging" eyes. Cranial magnetic resonance imaging disclosed a 10-cm-diameter, lobulated, heterogeneous, locally invasive mass in the anterior skull base and cranial fossa. Initial laboratory testing showed a prolactin level of 164.5 ng/mL (normal range, 1.6 to 18.8). The pathology specimen from his surgical debulking procedure was consistent with prolactinoma. Retesting of the original serum prolactin sample with serial dilutions revealed a prolactin level of 26,000 ng/mL. A postoperative diluted prolactin level was 22,000 ng/mL. Both prolactin samples demonstrated the hook effect. Dopamine agonist therapy was initiated, and the prolactin level and size of the tumor decreased substantially. The hook effect most commonly occurs when excess antigen (for example, prolactin) is present during testing. Dilution testing can counteract this assay phenomenon. Conclusion: Clinicians should be aware of this laboratory phenomenon when evaluating large pituitary or parasellar masses. When the hook effect is suspected, dilution testing of prolactin samples may prevent incorrect diagnosis and unnecessary surgical intervention in patients with prolactinomas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)296-303
Number of pages8
JournalEndocrine Practice
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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