Development of the human adrenal zona reticularis: Morphometric and immunohistochemical studies from birth to adolescence

Xiao Gang Hui, Jun Ichi Akahira, Takashi Suzuki, Masaki Nio, Yasuhiro Nakamura, Hiroyoshi Suzuki, William E. Rainey, Hironobu Sasano

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65 Citations (Scopus)


Age-related morphologic development of human adrenal zona reticularis (ZR) has not been well examined. Therefore, in this study, 44 human young adrenal autopsy specimens retrieved from large archival files (n=252) were examined for immunohistochemical and morphometric analyses. Results demonstrated that ZR became discernible around 4 years of age, and both thickness and ratio per total cortex of ZR increased in an age-dependent fashion thereafter, although there was no significant increment in total thickness of developing adrenal cortex. We further evaluated immunoreactivity of both KI67 and BCL2 in order to clarify the equilibrium between cell proliferation and apoptosis in the homeostasis of developing human adrenals. Results demonstrated that proliferative adrenocortical cells were predominantly detected in the zona glomerulosa and partly in outer zona fasciculata (ZF) before 4 years of age and in ZR after 4 years of age, but the number of these cells markedly decreased around 20 years of age. The number of BCL2-positive cells increased in ZR and decreased in ZF during development. Adrenal androgen synthesizing type 5 17bhydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (HSD17B5 or AKR1C3 as listed in the Hugo Database) was almost confined to ZR of human adrenals throughout development. HSD17B5 immunoreactivity in ZR became discernible and increased from around 9 years of age. Results of our present study support the theory of age-dependent adrenocortical cell migration and also indicated that ZR development is not only associated with adrenarche, but may play important roles in an initiation of puberty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-252
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Endocrinology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Nov


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