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Activation of aldosterone secretion in primary aldosteronism

Richard F. Spark, Sidney L. Dale, Paul C. Kahn and James C. Melby

Section of Endocrinology, Evans Memorial Department of Clinical Research, University Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02118Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston University Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts 02118Department of Radiology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts 02118

Published January 1969

Angiotensin infusion evokes marked increases in aldosterone secretion in primary aldosteronism and little change in secondary aldosteronism. The low plasma renin activity of primary aldosteronism and the elevated plasma renin activity of secondary aldosteronism are thought to account for this differential response. The effect of angiotensin on aldosterone and 18-hydroxycorticosterone secretion was studied during adrenal vein catheterization in seven patients with primary aldosteronism (whose plasma renin activity had been elevated following spironolactone therapy), one hypertensive patient with normal plasma renin activity and normal aldosterone secretion, two patients with secondary aldosteronism who had elevated plasma renin activity, and one anephric patient whose plasma renin activity was 0. Adrenal venous aldosterone and 18-hydroxycorticosterone were measured before and after a ten min sub-pressor angiotensin infusion.

The cells of the aldosterone-producing adenoma (APA) respond to small increases in plasma angiotensin with large increases in secretion of aldosterone and 18-hydroxycorticosterone. The dose of angiotensin capable of evoking this response from the aldosterone-producing adenoma produces little or no change in the secretion of the steroids from nontumorous glands. The augmentation of aldosterone secretion, induced by angiotensin, in primary aldosteronism is due solely to increased secretion by the adenoma and not by the contralateral zona glomerulosa. The increased sensitivity of the aldosterone-producing adenoma is characteristic of the tumor. This response is independent of fluctuations in endogenous plasma renin activity. This sensitivity is not blunted by high plasma renin activity, nor is it a function of tumor mass for the effect is observed in aldosterone-producing adenomas regardless of size. ACTH injection after angiotensin infusion resulted in a marked increase in aldosterone concentration in the effluent from the nontumorous adrenal, but was not capable of producing further increases in aldosterone concentration in the effluent from the APA. In view of this exquisite sensitivity to infused angiotensin, it may be that the small variations in endogenous plasma renin activity that have been observed in primary aldosteronism may be capable of evoking large changes in aldosterone secretion in patients with aldosterone-producing adenomas.

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