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Compr Physiol. 2015 Jan;5(1):293-326. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c140010.

Adrenocortical growth and cancer.

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Inserm, U1016, Institut Cochin, Paris, France Cnrs, UMR8104, Paris, France Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne Paris Cité, France Department of Endocrinology, Referral Center for Rare Adrenal Diseases, Assistance Publique Hôpitaux de Paris, Hôpital Cochin, Paris, France.


The adrenal gland consists of two distinct parts, the cortex and the medulla. Molecular mechanisms controlling differentiation and growth of the adrenal gland have been studied in detail using mouse models. Knowledge also came from investigations of genetic disorders altering adrenal development and/or function. During embryonic development, the adrenal cortex acquires a structural and functional zonation in which the adrenal cortex is divided into three different steroidogenic zones. Significant progress has been made in understanding adrenal zonation. Recent lineage tracing experiments have accumulated evidence for a centripetal differentiation of adrenocortical cells from the subcapsular area to the inner part of the adrenal cortex. Understanding of the mechanism of adrenocortical cancer (ACC) development was stimulated by knowledge of adrenal gland development. ACC is a rare cancer with a very poor overall prognosis. Abnormal activation of the Wnt/β-catenin as well as the IGF2 signaling plays an important role in ACC development. Studies examining rare genetic syndromes responsible for familial ACT have played an important role in identifying genetic alterations in these tumors (like TP53 or CTNNB1 mutations as well as IGF2 overexpression). Recently, genomic analyses of ACT have shown gene expression profiles associated with malignancy as well as chromosomal and methylation alterations in ACT and exome sequencing allowed to describe the mutational landscape of these tumors. This progress leads to a new classification of these tumors, opening new perspectives for the diagnosis and prognostication of ACT. This review summarizes current knowledge of adrenocortical development, growth, and tumorigenesis.

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