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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1991 Dec;73(6):1302-8.

Clonal composition of pituitary adenomas in patients with Cushing's disease: determination by X-chromosome inactivation analysis.

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Molecular Biology Laboratory, National Institute of Neurological Disorders, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.


The synthesis and secretion of anterior pituitary hormones are subjected to a variety of positive and negative feedback mechanisms. Aberrancies of these highly regulated phenomena may lead to hyperplasia involving multiple cells of the anterior lobe. Alternatively, a rare genetic mutation in a single cell may precede its clonal expansion. Which of these mechanisms is operative in the development of corticotroph adenomas is not known. To examine this question, we studied the clonal composition of ACTH-producing pituitary adenomas from female patients with Cushing's disease by using X-chromosome inactivation analysis. Nine of 27 patients examined were heterozygous at 1 of the 2 X-chromosome-linked polymorphic loci, hypoxanthine-phosphoribosyl-transferase and phosphoglycerate-kinase. The methylation patterns of the hypoxanthine-phosphoribosyl-transferase and phosphoglycerate-kinase genes, distinguishing between the active and inactive alleles, were analyzed in DNA extracted from the central part of the tumor and compared with those of autologous lymphocyte DNA. Six tumors (4 microadenomas and 2 macroadenomas) showed a single active allele of the X-chromosome-linked genes and were monoclonal in nature. The other 3 pituitary adenomas (1 microadenoma and 2 macroadenomas, 1 from a patient with Nelson's syndrome) revealed a polyclonal pattern of X-chromosome inactivation. Our data demonstrate that corticotroph adenomas of the pituitary may arise from a single cell or from more than one cell. Whether fundamentally different endocrine mechanisms underlie the two processes remains to be seen.

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