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Neurochem Res. 2003 Feb;28(2):327-32.

New aspects on primary aldosteronism.

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Department of Surgical Sciences and Molecular Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


The adrenal cortex synthesizes and releases steroid hormones, mainly mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids. There is a functional zonation of the adrenal cortex and steroid synthesis is thoroughly regulated. Overproduction of aldosterone, primary aldosteronism, may be much more common than previously known and may be responsible for 10% of essential hypertension. Primary aldosteronism is characterized by autonomous production of aldosterone, suppressed renin activity, hypokalemia, and hypertension. The two most common forms are unilateral adenoma and bilateral hyperplasia. In spite of thorough clinical workup and careful histopathology it is often difficult to differentiate between adenoma and hyperplasia. The gene CYP11B2 encodes the steroid synthesizing enzymes for aldosterone production, while the genes CYP17 and CYP11B1 are needed for cortisol production. Most normal controls show expression of CYP11B2 in zona glomerulosa. Expression of CYP11B1 and CYP17 is seen in zona fasciculata and reticularis, whereas the expression of CYP21 is present in all three cortical layers. Adenomas from patients with primary aldosteronism show considerable variation in the expression of CYP11B2. Adenomas from patients with Cushing's syndrome have a strong expression of CYP11B1 and CYP17. In a patient material of 29 cases of primary aldosteronism, 4 patients had small nodules detected with expression of CYP11B2 gene. These nodules were not visualized on CT, whereas adrenal masses seen on CT in these patients showed CYP11B1 and CYP17 gene expression. This suggests that these small nodules are responsible for the aldosterone production and this is characteristic of nodular hyperplasia in patients with primary aldosteronism. In conclusion, this method to visualize mRNA gene expression of steroidogenic enzymes, and especially expression of CYP11B2, has increased the knowledge of adrenal pathophysiology. The results emphasize the value to include functional studies (venous sampling and/or scintigraphy) in the preoperative work up of patients with primary aldosteronism.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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