Context: Aldosterone (ALD) secretion is regulated mainly by angiotensin II, K(+), and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists (MRAs) have effectively been used for the treatment of patients with hypertension who do not have primary aldosteronism (PA).
Objective: We tested whether chronic stress-related ACTH-mediated ALD hypersecretion and/or zona glomerulosa hypersensitivity could be implicated in the pathogenesis of essential hypertension (ESHT).
Patients and methods: One hundred thirteen hypertensives without PA and 61 normotensive controls underwent an ultralow-dose (0.03-μg) ACTH stimulation and a treadmill test. Patients with ALD hyper-response according to the cutoffs obtained from controls received treatment with MRAs and underwent genomic DNA testing for the presence of the CYP11B1/CYP11B2 chimeric gene and KCNJ5 gene mutations. A control group of 22 patients with simple ESHT received treatment with MRAs.
Results: Based on the cutoffs of ALD and aldosterone-to-renin ratio (ARR) post-ACTH stimulation obtained from controls, 30 patients (27%) exhibited an ALD but not cortisol (F) hyper-response (HYPER group). This group had no difference in basal ACTH/renin (REN) concentrations compared with controls and the 83 patients with hypertension (73%) without an ALD hyper-response to ACTH stimulation. Patients in the HYPER group demonstrated significantly higher ALD concentrations, ARR, and ALD/ACTH ratio (AAR) in the treadmill test. Treatment with MRAs alone produced normalization of blood pressure in these patients whereas patients with hypertension with neither PA nor ALD hyper-response to ACTH stimulation who served as a control group failed to lower blood pressure. Also, two novel germline heterozygous KCNJ5 mutations were detected in the HYPER group.
Conclusions: A number of patients with hypertension without PA show ACTH-dependent ALD hyper-secretion and benefit from treatment with MRAs. This could be related to chronic stress via ACTH hyper secretion and/or gene-mutations increasing the zona glomerulosa responsiveness to excitatory stimuli.