What is the role of catecholamine in the pathogenesis of pheochromocytomas?

Updated: Aug 10, 2018
  • Author: Michael A Blake, MBBCh, MRCPI, FRCR; Chief Editor: George T Griffing, MD  more...
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The biologic effects of catecholamines are well known. Stimulation of alpha-adrenergic receptors results in elevated blood pressure, increased cardiac contractility, glycogenolysis, gluconeogenesis, and intestinal relaxation. Stimulation of beta-adrenergic receptors results in an increase in heart rate and contractility. [4]

Catecholamine secretion in pheochromocytomas is not regulated in the same manner as in healthy adrenal tissue. Unlike the healthy adrenal medulla, pheochromocytomas are not innervated, and catecholamine release is not precipitated by neural stimulation. The trigger for catecholamine release is unclear, but multiple mechanisms have been postulated, including direct pressure, medications, and changes in tumor blood flow.

Relative catecholamine levels also differ in pheochromocytomas. Most pheochromocytomas secrete norepinephrine predominantly, whereas secretions from the normal adrenal medulla are roughly 85% epinephrine.

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