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Endocr Connect. 2018 May;7(5):617-629. doi: 10.1530/EC-18-0067. Epub 2018 Apr 5.

Isolation of a multipotent mesenchymal stem cell-like population from human adrenal cortex.

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Institute of Genetic MedicineNewcastle University, International Centre for Life, Central Parkway, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Endocrine UnitRoyal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
Urology UnitFreeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
Institute of Cellular MedicineNewcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
Institute of Genetic MedicineNewcastle University, International Centre for Life, Central Parkway, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
Department of Musculoskeletal BiologyInstitute of Ageing and Chronic disease, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK.



The highly plastic nature of adrenal cortex suggests the presence of adrenocortical stem cells (ACSC), but the exact in vivo identity of ACSC remains elusive. A few studies have demonstrated the differentiation of adipose or bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) into steroid-producing cells. We therefore investigated the isolation of multipotent MSC from human adrenal cortex.


Human adrenals were obtained as discarded surgical material. Single-cell suspensions from human adrenal cortex (n = 3) were cultured onto either complete growth medium (CM) or MSC growth promotion medium (MGPM) in hypoxic condition. Following ex vivo expansion, their multilineage differentiation capacity was evaluated. Phenotype markers were analysed by immunocytochemistry and flow cytometry for cell-surface antigens associated with bone marrow MSCs and adrenocortical-specific phenotype. Expression of mRNAs for pluripotency markers was assessed by q-PCR.


The formation of colony-forming unit fibroblasts comprising adherent cells with fibroblast-like morphology were observed from the monolayer cell culture, in both CM and MGPM. Cells derived from MGPM revealed differentiation towards osteogenic and adipogenic cell lineages. These cells expressed cell-surface MSC markers (CD44, CD90, CD105 and CD166) but did not express the haematopoietic, lymphocytic or HLA-DR markers. Flow cytometry demonstrated significantly higher expression of GLI1 in cell population harvested from MGPM, which were highly proliferative. They also exhibited increased expression of the pluripotency markers.


Our study demonstrates that human adrenal cortex harbours a mesenchymal stem cell-like population. Understanding the cell biology of adrenal cortex- derived MSCs will inform regenerative medicine approaches in autoimmune Addison's disease.


adrenocortical stem cell; autoimmune Addison’s disease; mesenchymal stem cells; tissue regeneration

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