Cortisol Co-Secretion and Clinical Usefulness of ACTH Stimulation Test in Primary Aldosteronism: A Systematic Review and Biases in Epidemiological Studies


The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis plays an important role in primary aldosteronism. Aldosterone biosynthesis is regulated not only by angiotensin II in the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, but also by adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), one of the key components of the HPA axis. Although previous studies have reported cortisol cosecretion in primary aldosteronism, particularly aldosterone-producing adenoma (APA), the clinical relevance of such aldosterone and cortisol cosecretion from APA and hypertension or other metabolic disorders has not been fully established. Several somatic mutations including KCNJ5 and CACNA1D are known to induce autonomous production of aldosterone in APA, and the aldosterone responsiveness to ACTH may vary according to each mutation. The ACTH stimulation test has been reported to be a useful tool to distinguish the subtypes of primary aldosteronism (e.g., unilateral vs bilateral) in some studies, but it has not been commonly applied in clinical practice due to limited evidence. Given the recent advancement of imaging, omics research, and computational approach, it is important to summarize the most updated evidence to disentangle the potential impact of cortisol excess in primary aldosteronism and whether the ACTH stimulation test needs to be considered during the diagnostic process of primary aldosteronism. In this article, we conducted a systematic review of epidemiological studies about (i) cortisol cosecretion in primary aldosteronism and (ii) the ACTH stimulation test for the diagnosis of primary aldosteronism (including subtype diagnosis). Then, we discussed potential biases (e.g., confounding bias, overadjustment, information bias, selection bias, and sampling bias) in the previous studies and introduced some advanced epidemiological/statistical methods to minimize these limitations. A better understanding of biases and epidemiological perspective on this topic would allow us to produce further robust evidence and balanced discussion about the causal mechanisms involving the HPA axis and clinical usefulness of the ACTH stimulation test among patients with primary aldosteronism.

Authors: Kosuke Inoue, Takumi Kitamoto, Yuya Tsurutani, Jun Saito, Masao Omura, Tetsuo Nishikawa
Keywords: cortisol, ACTH, hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, HPA axis
DOI Number: 10.3389/fendo.2021.645488      Publication Year: 2021

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