Adrenal Gland


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Resources on M+Box

AtlasWheater's, pgs. 338-41, Adrenal Gland
TextRoss and Pawlina, pgs. 706-15, Adrenal Glands


  1. Recognize the zones of the adrenal cortex that produce aldosterone and cortisol, and explain how the blood supply is arranged for efficient uptake of the hormones.
  2. Recognize the adrenal medulla in histological section, and explain the functional similarity of its cells to those of the sympathetic nervous system.

I. ADRENAL (Suprarenal) GLAND

Slide 230 (adrenal gland, human, H&E) WebScope ImageScope [orientation]
Slide 231 (adrenal gland, monkey, H&E) WebScope ImageScope [orientation]

At low magnification on the human adrenal gland (slide 230), note that the gland is enclosed by a connective tissue capsule and has two principal regions - a cortex and a medulla. The cortex [example] occupies the greatest area on your slide. In many regions of slide 230 you will see only cortex, because some parts of the human adrenal lack medulla. The cortex is made up of three regions or zones: the zona glomerulosa, the zona fasciculata and the zona reticularis. The zona fasciculata [example] is probably the easiest layer to spot as it is a broad zone of cells arranged in straight cords, one or two cells thick, which run at right angles to the surface of the gland. The cells of the fasciculata are lightly stained and have a frothy appearance, due to the extraction of lipid droplets from the cell cytoplasm during tissue processing. Interior to the fasciculata is the zona reticularis [example], which stains more deeply than the other two regions of the cortex. The cells of the zona reticularis are arranged as anastomosing (reticular or net-like) cords. The zona glomerulosa [example] is found outermost in the cortex and consists of cells arranged in rounded or arched clusters although in the human adrenal gland, the zona glomerulosa may not be present around the entire periphery of the cortex. In other species, however, this zone exists as a complete layer around the entire periphery of the cortex as shown in slide 231, which of the monkey adrenal gland. Continuing inward on slide 231, you should be able to recognize the zona fasciculata [example], zona reticularis [example], and, finally, medulla [example]. Notice that throughout the cortex of both the human and monkey adrenal glands are numerous capillaries, with somewhat expanded lumens.

Return to the medulla of slide 230 (human adrenal section) [example]. The medullary cells, source of norepinephrine (noradrenalin) and epinephrine (adrenalin), are often more basophilic than the cells of the cortex. The cells of the medulla are considered to be modified postganglionic sympathetic neurons (derived from neural crest cells). These secretory cells are also called chromaffin cells, because their secretory granules (containing norepinephrine or epinephrine) stain brown with potassium dichromate. Note the branches of the central (or medullary) vein [see example] in the medulla, and review the blood circulation of the adrenal.


Electron Micrographs