Journal of Endocrinological Investigation

, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 373–379 | Cite as

Aldosterone and the conquest of land

  • L. ColomboEmail author
  • L. Dalla Valle
  • C. Fiore
  • D. Armanini
  • P. Belvedere
Review Article


The sequence of the phylogenetic events that preceded the appearance of aldosterone in vertebrates is described, starting from the ancestral conversion of cytochrome P450s from oxygen detoxification to xenobiotic detoxification and synthesis of oxygenated endobiotics with useful functions in intercellular signalling, such as steroid hormones. At the end of the Silurian period [438–408 million yr ago, (Mya)], a complete set of cytochrome P450s for corticoid synthesis was presumably already available, except for mitochondrial cytochrome P450c18 or aldosterone synthase encoded by CYP11B2. This gene arose by duplication of the CYP11B gene in the sarcopterygian or lobe-finned fish/tetrapod line after its divergence from the actinopterygian or ray-finned fish line 420 Mya, but before the beginning of the colonization of land by tetrapodsin the late Devonian period, around 370 Mya. The fact that aldosterone is already present in Dipnoi, which occupy an evolutionary transition between water- and air-breathing but are fully aquatic, suggests that the role of this steroid was to potentiate the corticoid response to hypoxia, rather than to prevent dehydration out of the water. In terrestrial amphibians, there is no differentiation between the secretion rates and gluco- and mineralocorticoid effects of aldosterone and corticosterone. In sauropsids, plasma aldosterone concentrations are much lower than in amphibians, but regulation of salt/water balance is dependent upon both aldosterone and corticosterone, though sometimes with opposed actions. In terrestrial mammals, aldosterone acquires a specific mineralocorticoid function, because its interaction with the mineralocorticoid receptor is protected by the coexpression of the enzyme 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2, which inactivates both cortisol and corticosterone. There is evidence that aldosterone can be also synthesized extra-adrenally in brain neurons and cardiac myocytes, which lack this protection and where the effects of aldosterone oppose those of glucocorticoids. In conclusion, the phylogenetic history of aldosterone documents the erratic progression of evolutionary changes in the course of the strenuous struggle for environmental resources and survival.

Key Words

Aldosterone cytochrome P450 vertebrate evolution os-moregulation land colonization 


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Copyright information

© Italian Society of Endocrinology (SIE) 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. Colombo
    • 1
    Email author
  • L. Dalla Valle
    • 1
  • C. Fiore
    • 2
  • D. Armanini
    • 2
  • P. Belvedere
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of PaduaPaduaItaly
  2. 2.Department of Medical and Surgical Sciences-EndocrinologyUniversity of PaduaPaduaItaly

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