Electron microscope studies were carried out with the adrenocortical carcinoma 494 and normal adrenal cortex tissue. The mitochondria of the tumor cells showed marked differences when compared with mitochondria from fasciculata cells of the normal adrenal cortex. These differences were primarily related to mitochondrial number and crista structure.
Corticosterone production in isolated tumor cells was extremely low and neither ACTH nor dibutyryl cyclic AMP had any stimulatory effect. Normal adrenal cells showed at least a tenfold increase under identical conditions. In the presence of corticosteroid precursors the amount of corticosterone produced by the tumor cells was much less than that produced by normal cells.
The results indicate a reduced capacity for 11ß-hydroxylation in the tumor mitochondria and a possible reduced capacity for biosynthetic steps before the 11ß-hydroxylation reaction. Glycolysis in isolated tumor cells was also lower than in normal cells.
Isolated tumor mitochondria oxidized succinate normally with a good degree of coupling with phosphorylation. However, unlike normal adrenal mitochondria, the tumor mitochondria showed little or no oxygen uptake with other Krebs cycle substrates. These data suggest that the tumor mitochondria may be lacking in the flavoprotein dehydrogenases responsible for the oxidation of NADH and NADPH, although other components of the respiratory chain may be intact.