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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jun;93(6):2402-8. doi: 10.1210/jc.2007-2509. Epub 2008 Mar 25.

The periphery of the human fetal adrenal gland is a site of angiogenesis: zonal differential expression and regulation of angiogenic factors.

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  • 1Center for Reproductive Sciences, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, University of California-San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143-0556, USA.



Although the inner fetal zone (FZ) of the mid-gestation human fetal adrenal (HFA) produces dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, the function of the outer definitive zone (DZ) remains less clear. We have proposed that the DZ phenotype is that of a pool of progenitor cells, many of which are mitotically active. Recently, we studied HFA expression of a family of vascular endothelial cell-specific angiogenic factors, the angiopoietins (Angs), and demonstrated that Ang2 was localized predominantly in the periphery of the gland. Ang1 stabilizes, whereas Ang2 destabilizes, vessels, increasing responsiveness to angiogenic stimuli such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A and fibroblast growth factor (FGF)-2.


Our objective was to test the hypothesis that the periphery of the HFA is a site of angiogenesis.


Studies were conducted involving RNA, frozen sections, and primary cell cultures from midgestation HFAs.


Immunofluorescence, laser capture microdissection, and real-time quantitative RT-PCR were used.


Double immunostaining demonstrated that proliferating endothelial cells were limited to the DZ and DZ/FZ border. Ang2 mRNA was primarily expressed in the DZ, whereas Ang1 mRNA was primarily in the FZ. VEGF-A and FGF-2 mRNA levels were higher in the DZ. FGF-2 (10 ng/ml) induced Ang2 mRNA by 4-fold in both zones of cells (P < 0.01, at 24 h), but not Ang1 or VEGF-A mRNA.


Data suggest that angiogenesis occurs at the periphery of the HFA. The DZ-predominant expression of Ang2 may be explained, in part, by the parallel pattern of FGF-2 expression.

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