The most potent corticosteroids are 11β-hydroxylated compounds. In humans, two cytochrome P450 isoenzymes with 11β-hydroxylase activity, catalysing the biosynthesis of cortisol and aldosterone, are present in the adrenal cortex. CYP11B1, the gene encoding 11β-hydroxylase (P450c11), is expressed on high levels in the zona fasciculata and is regulated by ACTH. CYP11B2, the gene encoding aldosterone synthase (P450c11Aldo), is expressed in the zona glomerulosa under primary control of the renin-angiotensin system. Aldosterone synthase has 11β-hydroxylase activity as well as 18-hydroxylase activity and 18-oxidase activity. The substrate for CYP11B2 is 11-deoxycorticosterone, that of CYP11B1 is 11-deoxycortisol. Mutations in CYP11B1 cause congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) due to 11β-hydroxylase deficiency. This disorder is characterized by androgen excess and hypertension. Mutations in CYP11B2 cause congenital hypoaldosteronism (aldosterone synthase deficiency) which is characterized by life-threatening salt loss, failure to thrive, hyponatraemia and hyperkalaemia in early infancy. Both disorders have an autosomal recessive inheritance. Classical and nonclassical forms of 11β-hydroxylase deficiency can be distinguished. Studies in heterozygotes for classical 11β-hydroxylase deficiency show inconsistent results with no or only mild hormonal abnormalities (elevated plasma levels of 11-deoxycortisol after ACTH stimulation). In infants with congenital hypoaldosteronism, a comparable frequency of 18-hydroxylase deficiency (aldosterone synthase deficiency type I) and of 18-oxidase deficiency (aldosterone synthase deficiency type II) can be found. Molecular genetic studies of the CYP11B1 and CYP11B2 genes in 11β-hydroxylase deficiency or aldosterone synthase deficiency have led to the identification of several mutations. Transfection experiments showed loss of enzyme activity in vitro. In some of the patients with 18-oxidase deficiency (aldosterone synthase deficiency type II) no mutations in the CYP11B2 gene were identified. Refined methods for steroid determination are the basis for the diagnosis of inborn errors of steroidogenesis. Molecular genetic studies are complementary; on the one hand, they have practical importance for the prenatal diagnosis of virilizing CAH forms and on the other hand, they are of theoretical importance in terms of our understanding of the functioning of cytochrome P450 enzymes.
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