Small Adrenocortical Tumors without Apparent Clinical Endocrine Abnormalities: Immunolocalization of Steroidogenic Enzymes

T. Suzuki, H. Sasano, T. Sawai, K. Tsunoda, T. Nisikawa, K. Abe, K. Yoshinaga, H. Nagura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Immunobistochemical analysis of steroldogenic enzymes (P-450 side-chain cleavage, β-hydroxysteroid debydrogenase, P-450 C21-bydroxylase, P-45017α-hydroxylase and P-450 11 β-hydroxylase) was performed on fifteen cases of small adrenocortical adenomas, which were detected incidentally in hormonally asymptomatic patients (non-functioning adrenocortical tumor), in order to study steroidogenesis in these tumors. Immunolocalization revealed that all cases examined expressed all the enzymes in the adrenocortical steroidogenic pathway to various degrees, and in twelve cases abnormalities of precursor hormones and steroid metabolites were clinically observed. Attached non-neoplastic adrenals were present in twelve cases. Among these twelve cases, eight showed cortical atrophy, especially in the z zona fasciculata. These atrophied adrenals expressed little immunoreactivity of the enzymes examined. These results strongly indicate that most of small non-functioning adrenocortical tumors have the capacity to produce biologically active steroids including cortisol, although not necessarily associated with bypercorticism. Especially in the cases with cortical atrophy in attached non-neoplastic adrenals, it is considered that autonomous neoplastic production and secretion of cortisol may be insufficient to cause clinical and routine laboratory abnormalities but sufficient to subtly alter the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis by suppressing ACTH and/or CRF secretion and to result in adrenocortical atrophy. It should be recognized that corticosteroidogenesis does take place in the majority of clinically small non-functioning adrenocortical tumors incidentally detected in hormonally asymptomatic patients when managing these patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)883-889
Number of pages7
JournalPathology Research and Practice
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1992


  • ACTH
  • Adrenal cortex
  • Adrenocortical tumor
  • CRF
  • Steroidogenic enzymes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Cell Biology


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