Aldosterone-producing adenoma is a major subtype of primary aldosteronism. The number of cases of these adenomas, which are below the detection limit of computed tomography but diagnosed by adrenal venous sampling, has recently been increasing. However, the pathophysiology of these adenomas, especially those manifesting clinically overt hyperaldosteronism despite their small size, remains unknown. Therefore, we examined the correlation between tumor size and the status of intratumoral steroidogenic enzymes involved in aldosterone biosynthesis using immunohistochemistry. Forty patients with surgically proven aldosterone-producing adenomas were retrospectively studied. Multidetector computed tomography, adrenal venous sampling, and laparoscopic adrenalectomy were performed in all of the patients studied. The tumor area at the maximum diameter of the sections was precisely measured by ImageJ software. The status of the steroidogenic enzymes was immunohistochemically analyzed, and the findings were evaluated according to the H-score system, based on both the number of immunopositive cells and relative immunointensity. Adrenal masses were not detected by computed tomography in 20 patients. Blood pressure, plasma aldosterone concentration, urinary aldosterone excretion, and the number of antihypertensive agents also decreased significantly after the surgery in these patients, as well as in the patients with adenomas detectable by computed tomography. Maximum tumor area obtained in the specimens was significantly correlated with preoperative plasma aldosterone concentration, urinary aldosterone excretion, and the H score of 11β-hydroxylase and was inversely correlated with the H score of aldosterone synthase. These results demonstrated that small adenomas could produce sufficient aldosterone to cause clinically overt primary aldosteronism because of the significantly higher aldosterone synthase expression per tumor area.
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