1. Improved approaches to screening and diagnosis have revealed primary aldosteronism (PAL) to be much more common than previously thought, with most patients normokalaemic. The spectrum of this disorder has been further broadened by the study of familial varieties.
2. Familial hyperaldosteronism type I (FH-I) is a glucocorticoid-remediable form of PAL caused by the inheritance of an adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH)- regulated, hybrid CYP11B1/CYP11B2 gene. Diagnosis has been greatly facilitated by the advent of genetic testing. The severity of hypertension varies widely in FH-I, even among members of the same family, and has demonstrated relationships with gender, degree of biochemical disturbance and hybrid gene crossover point position. Hormone “day curve” studies show that the hybrid gene dominates over wild-type CYP11B2 in terms of aldosterone regulation. This may be due, in part, to a defect in wild-type CYP11B2-induced aldosterone production. Control of hypertension in FH-I requires only partial suppression of ACTH and much smaller glucocorticoid doses than previously recommended.
3. Familial hyperaldosteronism type II (FH-II) is not glucocorticoid remediable and is not associated with the hybrid gene mutation. Familial hyperaldosteronism type II is clinically, biochemically and morphologically indistinguishable from apparently non-familial PAL. Linkage studies in one informative family did not show segregation of FH-II with the CYP11B2, AT1 or MEN1 genes, but a genome-wide search has revealed linkage with a locus in chromosome 7. As has already occurred in FH-I, elucidation of causative mutations is likely to facilitate earlier detection of PAL.