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World J Surg. 2001 Jul;25(7):957-66.

In vitro release of aldosterone and cortisol in human adrenal adenomas correlates to mRNA expression of steroidogenic enzymes for genes CYP11B2 and CYP17.

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Department of Surgical Sciences, Section of Surgery, Karolinska Institute at Karolinska Hospital, P9:03, S-17176 Stockholm, Sweden.


Adenomas of the adrenal cortex cause different disorders depending on the main steroid synthesized and released. The aim of this research is to increase our understanding of the pathophysiology of steroidogenesis in adrenocortical disorders by comparing the release of steroids from adrenocortical adenomas in vitro with the messenger RNA (mRNA) expression of steroid synthesizing enzymes. Fourteen patients with adrenal tumors were included in the present study; nine were diagnosed with primary aldosteronism and three with Cushing's syndrome. Two patients had an adrenal tumor discovered on computed tomography (CT) during workup for an unrelated disease. Serum cortisol, plasma aldosterone, and urinary catecholamines were normal. Tissue was taken for in vitro steroid release, and aldosterone and cortisol in the medium after a 1-hour incubation were determined. Oligonucleotide probes with sequences complementary to mRNAs encoding for the steroid synthesizing enzymes 11 beta-hydroxylase (CYP11B1), 18-hydroxylase (CYP11B2), 17 alpha-hydroxylase (CYP17), and 21-hydroxylase (CYP21) were synthesized (Genset, Paris, France) and in situ hybridization was performed. Moderate expression of CYP11B2 and low expression of CYP11B1 were seen in the zona glomerulosa. The zona fasciculata of the control adrenals expressed a high signal of CYP11B1, whereas the expression of CYP11B2 was very low. There was considerable variation in aldosterone release from the aldosteronomas, whereas the tumors from the Cushing patients showed no detectable release of aldosterone. In contrast, tumors from patients with primary aldosteronism, Cushing's syndrome, and no hyperfunction all had the ability to synthesize and release cortisol in vitro. The highest cortisol release was found in tumors from patients with Cushing's syndrome, but also the nonhyperfunctioning tumors and some of the aldosteronomas released significant amounts of cortisol. The two patients with highest release of aldosterone in vitro showed the highest expression of CYP11B2 and the lowest expression of CYP11B1 and CYP17. The remaining aldosteronomas had low expression of CYP11B2, similar to the two other groups. Expression of CYP11B1 was high as expected in the Cushing adenomas, but also the two nonhyperfunctioning tumors and some of the aldosteronomas showed a moderate expression. Adenomas from Cushing's syndrome, nonhyperfunctioning adenomas, and some of the aldosterone-producing adenomas had moderate to high expression of CYP17. This paper presents new means for functional characterization of adrenocortical tumors. Diagnosis of an aldosteronoma is often difficult, and with the advent of these methods it is possible to determine the functional capacity of a tumor, once it is removed. This is of special interest if the patient remains hypertensive postoperatively, and it is not clear whether the patient indeed had a functioning tumor.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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