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      The Adrenal

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          During the past 15 years, considerable progress has been made in our understanding of the genetic basis of adrenal development and function. More than 30 single gene disorders have now been identified that can affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in humans (fig. 1, 2; table 1). This review highlights recent advances in the molecular pathology of: (1) adrenal hypoplasia, (2) adrenal destruction, (3) disorders of adrenal steroidogenesis, (4) adrenal steroid resistance and (5) activation of the adrenal axis/tumorigenesis. Characterizing the molecular basis and natural history of these conditions is providing fascinating insight into adrenal development and function and can help to focus treatment and counselling of patients appropriately. However, ongoing translation of research findings into clinical practice is needed if patient care is to be influenced significantly.

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          Most cited references 38

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          Positional cloning of the APECED gene.

          Autoimmune polyglandular syndrome type I (APS 1, also called APECED) is an autosomal-recessive disorder that maps to human chromosome 21q22.3 between markers D21S49 and D21S171 by linkage studies. We have isolated a novel gene from this region, AIRE (autoimmune regulator), which encodes a protein containing motifs suggestive of a transcription factor including two zinc-finger (PHD-finger) motifs, a proline-rich region and three LXXLL motifs. Two mutations, a C-->T substitution that changes the Arg 257 (CGA) to a stop codon (TGA) and an A-->G substitution that changes the Lys 83 (AAG) to a Glu codon (GAG), were found in this novel gene in Swiss and Finnish APECED patients. The Arg257stop (R257X) is the predominant mutation in Finnish APECED patients, accounting for 10/12 alleles studied. These results indicate that this gene is responsible for the pathogenesis of APECED. The identification of the gene defective in APECED should facilitate the genetic diagnosis and potential treatment of the disease and further enhance our general understanding of the mechanisms underlying autoimmune diseases.
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            Activating mutations of the stimulatory G protein in the McCune-Albright syndrome.

            The McCune-Albright syndrome is a sporadic disease characterized by polyostotic fibrous dysplasia, café au lait spots, sexual precocity, and hyperfunction of multiple endocrine glands. These manifestations may be explained by a somatic mutation in affected tissues that results in activation of the signal-transduction pathway generating cyclic AMP (cAMP). We analyzed DNA from tissues of patients with the McCune-Albright syndrome for the presence of activating mutations of the gene for the alpha subunit of the G protein (Gs alpha) that stimulates cAMP formation. Genomic DNA fragments encompassing regions (exons 8 and 9) previously found to contain activating missense mutations of the Gs alpha gene (gsp mutations) in sporadically occurring pituitary tumors were amplified in tissues from four patients with the McCune-Albright syndrome by the polymerase chain reaction. The amplified DNA was analyzed for mutations by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis and allele-specific oligonucleotide hybridization. We detected one of two activating mutations within exon 8 of the Gs alpha gene in tissues from all four patients, including affected endocrine organs (gonads, adrenal glands, thyroid, and pituitary) and tissues not classically involved in the McCune-Albright syndrome. In two of the patients, histidine was substituted for arginine at position 201 of Gs alpha, and in the other two patients cysteine was substituted for the same arginine residue. In each patient the proportion of cells affected varied from tissue to tissue. In two endocrine organs, the highest proportion of mutant alleles was found in regions of abnormal cell proliferation. Mutations within exon 8 of the Gs alpha gene that result in increased activity of the Gs protein and increased cAMP formation are present in various tissues of patients with the McCune-Albright syndrome. Somatic mutation of this gene early in embryogenesis could result in the mosaic population of normal and mutant-bearing tissues that may underlie the clinical manifestations of this disease.
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              Germ-line mutations in nonsyndromic pheochromocytoma.

              The group of susceptibility genes for pheochromocytoma that included the proto-oncogene RET (associated with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 [MEN-2]) and the tumor-suppressor gene VHL (associated with von Hippel-Lindau disease) now also encompasses the newly identified genes for succinate dehydrogenase subunit D (SDHD) and succinate dehydrogenase subunit B (SDHB), which predispose carriers to pheochromocytomas and glomus tumors. We used molecular tools to classify a large cohort of patients with pheochromocytoma with respect to the presence or absence of mutations of one of these four genes and to investigate the relevance of genetic analyses to clinical practice. Peripheral blood from unrelated, consenting registry patients with pheochromocytoma was tested for mutations of RET, VHL, SDHD, and SDHB. Clinical data at first presentation and follow-up were evaluated. Among 271 patients who presented with nonsyndromic pheochromocytoma and without a family history of the disease, 66 (24 percent) were found to have mutations (mean age, 25 years; 32 men and 34 women). Of these 66, 30 had mutations of VHL, 13 of RET, 11 of SDHD, and 12 of SDHB. Younger age, multifocal tumors, and extraadrenal tumors were significantly associated with the presence of a mutation. However, among the 66 patients who were positive for mutations, only 21 had multifocal pheochromocytoma. Twenty-three (35 percent) presented after the age of 30 years, and 17 (8 percent) after the age of 40. Sixty-one (92 percent) of the patients with mutations were identified solely by molecular testing of VHL, RET, SDHD, and SDHB; these patients had no associated signs and symptoms at presentation. Almost one fourth of patients with apparently sporadic pheochromocytoma may be carriers of mutations; routine analysis for mutations of RET, VHL, SDHD, and SDHB is indicated to identify pheochromocytoma-associated syndromes that would otherwise be missed.

                Author and article information

                Horm Res Paediatr
                Hormone Research in Paediatrics
                S. Karger AG
                October 2004
                17 November 2004
                : 62
                : Suppl 3
                : 22-29
                Department of Medicine and Institute of Child Health, University College London, London, UK
                80495 Horm Res 2004;62(suppl 3):22–29
                © 2004 S. Karger AG, Basel

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                Page count
                Figures: 2, Tables: 2, References: 63, Pages: 8
                Molecular Biology for the Endocrinologist:New Insights into Aetiology and Prognosis


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