Primary aldosteronism is a secondary hypertensive disease caused by autonomous aldosterone production that often caused by an aldosterone-producing adenoma (APA). Immunohistochemistry of aldosterone synthase (CYP11B2) shows the presence of aldosterone-producing cell clusters (APCCs) even in non-primary aldosteronism adult adrenal cortex. An APCC-like structure also exists as possible APCC-to-APA transitional lesions (a speculative designation) in primary aldosteronism adrenals. However, whether APCCs produce aldosterone or 18-oxocortisol, a potential serum marker of APA, remains unknown because of lack of technology to visualize adrenocorticosteroids on tissue sections. To address this obstacle, in this study, we used highly sensitive Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry to image various adrenocorticosteroids, including 18-oxocortisol, in adrenal tissue sections from 8 primary aldosteronism patients with APCC (cases 1-4), possible APCC-to-APA transitional lesions (case 5), and APA (cases 6-8). Further analyses by tandem mass spectrometry imaging allowed us to differentially visualize aldosterone from cortisone, which share identical mass-to-charge ratio value (m/z). In conclusion, these advanced imaging techniques revealed that aldosterone and 18-oxocortisol coaccumulated within CYP11B2-expressing lesions. These imaging outcomes along with a growing body of aldosterone research led us to build a progressive development hypothesis of an aldosterone-producing pathology in the adrenal glands.
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