The Many Faces of Primary Aldosteronism and Cushing Syndrome: A Reflection of Adrenocortical Tumor Heterogeneity


Adrenal cortical tumors constitute a heterogeneous group of neoplasms with distinct clinical, morphological, and molecular features. Recent discoveries of specific genotype–phenotype correlations in adrenal cortical adenomas have transformed our understanding of their respective endocrine syndromes. Indeed, a proportion of patients with primary aldosteronism are now known to harbor adrenal cortical adenomas with heterogeneous molecular alterations (KCNJ5, ATP1A1, ATP2B3, and CACNA1D) involving the calcium/calmodulin kinase signaling pathway. Several lines of evidence suggest that KCNJ5-mutant aldosterone-producing adenomas have distinct clinicopathological phenotype compared to those harboring ATP1A1, ATP2B3, and CACNA1D mutations. Benign adrenal cortical tumors presenting with Cushing syndrome often have diverse mutations (PRKACA, PRKAR1A, GNAS, PDE11A, and PDE8B) involving the cyclic AMP signaling pathway. In addition to cortisol-producing adenomas, bilateral micronodular adrenocortical disease and primary bilateral macronodular adrenal hyperplasia (PBMAH) have also expanded the spectrum of benign neoplasms causing adrenal Cushing disease. The recent discovery of inactivating ARMC5 germline mutations in PBMAH has challenged the old belief that this disorder is mainly a sporadic disease. Emerging evidence suggests that PBMAH harbors multiple distinct clonal proliferations, reflecting the heterogeneous genomic landscape of this disease. Although most solitary adrenal cortical tumors are sporadic, there is an increasing recognition that inherited susceptibility syndromes may also play a role in their pathogenesis. This review highlights the molecular and morphological heterogeneity of benign adrenal cortical neoplasms, reflected in the diverse presentations of primary aldosteronism and adrenal Cushing syndrome.

Authors: Ozgur Mete, Kai Duan
Keywords: adrenal cortical adenomas, aldosterone-producing adenomas (APA), molecular alterations, genetics
DOI Number: 10.3389/fmed.2018.00054      Publication Year: 2018

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