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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Steroidogenesis in an estrogen-producing adrenal tumor in a young woman: comparison with steroid profiles associated with cortisol- and androgen-producing tumors.

There is only one previous report of an estrogen-secreting adrenal tumor occurring in a woman during reproductive years. Our patient presented with mild hirsutism associated with menstrual bleeding every 3-6 weeks. The occurrence of apparently intermenstrual bleeding prompted an evaluation of estrogen levels. Markedly elevated plasma estrone levels were found (860-2305 pmol/L; normal, 50-340). Lesser relative elevations in 11-deoxycortisol and androstenedione were noted. Computed tomographic scanning of the adrenal glands identified a large tumor, which was subsequently resected. Estrone levels fell to 120 pmol/L, and all other abnormalities were corrected. Eighteen months after adrenalectomy, ovulation occurred regularly, and steroid levels were entirely normal. Steroid production in a cell suspension made from tissue obtained from the 190-g tumor was compared with that occurring in normal human adrenal cells. The production of estrone by the tumor cells was 40-fold greater than that by normal adrenal cells. There was also a mild excess of 11-deoxycortisol produced by tumor cells, but the tumor cells were less than 50% as efficient as normal cells in producing cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone, androstenedione, testosterone, and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate. Examination of the steroid profile in plasma occurring in three other patients with adrenal tumors reveals that while elevations in estrone occur frequently, this is usually due to the peripheral conversion of very high levels of androstenedione. Estrone, androstenedione, and 11-deoxycortisol plasma levels were elevated in all four patients; dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate was elevated in only two of four patients. After resection of one of these tumors, all steroid levels remained normal despite the occurrence of extensive metastases. These observations confirm the difficulty of making a diagnosis of estrogen excess in a woman during reproductive years because of the paucity of physical signs. The acquisition of aromatase activity was clearly demonstrated by tumor cells from our patient in vitro. Elevated plasma concentrations of estrone, androstenedione, and 11-deoxycortisol provide useful markers for adrenal tumors, but no one steroid can be relied upon in all tumors, and metastases may lack the steroidogenic capabilities of the primary tumor.[1]


  1. Steroidogenesis in an estrogen-producing adrenal tumor in a young woman: comparison with steroid profiles associated with cortisol- and androgen-producing tumors. McKenna, T.J., O'Connell, Y., Cunningham, S., McCabe, M., Culliton, M. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. (1990) [Pubmed]
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