Horm Metab Res 1996; 28(4): 177-182
DOI: 10.1055/s-2007-979155
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© Georg Thieme Verlag Stuttgart · New York

Ultrastructural Dynamics of Mitochondrial Morphology in Varying Functional Forms of Human Adrenal Cortical Adenoma

S. R. Bornstein1 , J. W. Brown2 , A. Carballeira2 , J. Goodman2 , W. A. Scherbaum1 , M. Fishman2
  • 1Department of Internal Medicine III, University of Leipzig, Federal Republic of Germany
  • 2Department of Medicine, University of Miami School of Medicine and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Miami, FL, U.S.A.
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23. April 2007 (online)

Adrenal cortical mitochondria display an extensive capacity to adapt morphologically to the functional state of the adrenal cortical cell. In the present study, we have used transmission electron microscopy to analyze cortical tissues from 3 normal human adrenal glands (zona fasciculata and zona glomerulosa), and from 8 steroid-secreting adrenal cortical adenomas (3 cortisol-producing, 4 aldosterone-producing, and 1 progesterone-producing tumor), correlating both clinical and biochemical features with cellular ultrastructure. The morphology of mitochondria was related to the enzyme activity and steroid-biosynthetic capacity of each tumor. Cells from aldosterone-producing adenomas demonstrated a large number of elongated tubular mitochondria with characteristic bridging of inner membranes, producing a lamellar-type pattern. Cells from cortisol-producing adenomas showed large round mitochondria with vesicular or tubulovesicular inner membranes surrounded by a characteristic dilated smooth endoplasmic reticulum. A highly unusual progesterone-producing adenoma, in which a deficiency of 21α-hydroxylase activity was demonstrated, showed a peculiar type of enlarged lamellar mitochondria with bright inner matrix and a reduced number of inner membranes. Therefore, the ultrastructural characteristics of adrenal cortical mitochondria appear to be potential markers for the differentiation of steroid-producing adenomas. These studies point to the possibility of a broader use of electron microscopy in the study of adrenal tumors.