The adrenal cortex of mammals has been known to consist of three morphologically and functionally distinct zones, i.e. the zona glomerulosa (zG), the zona fasciculata (zF) and the zona reticularis (zR), each of which secretes a specific corticosteroid different from those produced by the other two zones. We found previously, however, that an additional zone existed between zG and zF of adult rat adrenal cortex and that the cells in that zone were in a functionally undifferentiated state as an adrenocortical cell [Endocrinology 135, (1994) 431]: they were incapable of synthesizing highly active forms of corticosteroids, such as aldosterone and corticosterone, although they could produce their precursors. Hence, we named the zone as the undifferentiated cell zone (zU) of the adrenal cortex. Here we show that zU and its surroundings, i.e. the innermost portion of zG and the outermost portion of zF are the sites for cell replication in adult rat adrenal cortex and that the cells raised there migrate to other regions. Such cell replications in this region occur regardless of physiological conditions, such as the rise and fall of hormonal stimuli and circadian fluctuation of adrenocortical activities. On the bases of these and other findings previously described, we propose that zU is the stem cell zone of the adult rat adrenal cortex. Our recent success in isolating novel cell lines, which display an undifferentiated phenotype similar to that of zU cells, could facilitate the exploration of molecular mechanisms for the differentiation and development of the adrenocortical cells.
ASJC Scopus subject areas