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J Histochem Cytochem. 2011 May;59(5):557-64. doi: 10.1369/0022155411404071. Epub 2011 Mar 16.

Alteration of subcapsular adrenocortical zonation in humans with aging: the progenitor zone predominates over the previously well-developed zona glomerulosa after 40 years of age.

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  • 1Department of Surgical Pathology, Tokyo Women's Medical University Medical Center East, Tokyo, Japan. aibasp@dnh.twmu.ac.jp


Few studies have examined functional adrenal zonation throughout human life. Adrenals from 61 surgical/autopsy patients from 1 day old to 92 years old who had no clinical endocrinological/mineralocorticoid abnormalities were assessed for immunohistochemically defined adrenal zonation. The zona glomerulosa (zG) was well developed in all 11 patients ranging in age from newborn to the 30s. After 40 years of age, however, the zG occupied less than one-quarter of the adrenal circumference, suggestive of zG involution. The other subcapsular areas were occupied by the progenitor zone (zP), which expressed neither cytochrome P450(aldo) nor P450(11β) but 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase and P450scc, although some autopsy cases had adrenals with zG zonation because of secondary aldosteronism, and others who had experienced severe stresses showed subcapsular zona fasciculata (zF). In conclusion, the adrenal cortex consists of homogeneous zG-topped columns from birth to adolescence. Subsequently, in the fifth decade of life, the cortex is reconstituted by integration of three types of cortical columns: scattered zG-topped columns and zonal zP-topped columns, the latter having the ability for bidirectional differentiation into either zG-topped columns or zF-topped columns, according to secondary aldosteronism or the presence of severe stresses. Such adrenocortical remodeling is ascribed to high-sodium/low-potassium diets.

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