Adrenal gland and paraganglia
Histology - adrenal cortex

Topic Completed: 1 April 2013

Revised: 29 May 2019

Copyright: 2002-2019,, Inc.

PubMed Search: Histology[TIAB] adrenal cortex[TI]

See also: Histology - adrenal medulla
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Cite this page: Nodar SR. Histology - adrenal cortex. website. Accessed June 16th, 2019.
Definition / general
  • Normal cortex in adults is 2 cm thick
  • Cortical extrusions: common into periadrenal fat; usually maintain attachment to adrenal gland
  • Cortical cuff: adrenal cortical cells around adrenal central vein and its branches
  • Richly vascularized; capsular blood vessels, nerves and lymphatics penetrate along connective tissue septae

Adrenal cortex anatomical zones ("gfr"):
  • Zona glomerulosa: just beneath the adrenal capsule; secretes mineralocorticoids; composed of small clusters and short trabeculae of relatively small, well-defined cells, less cytoplasm than other cortical cells, lipid-poor and 15% of cortical volume
  • Zona fasciculata: middle zone of adrenal cortex; secretes glucocorticoids; forms broad band of large cells with distinct membranes arranged in cords two cells wide; cytoplasm has numerous small lipid vacuoles, which may indent the central nucleus and resemble lipoblasts; 70-80% of cortical volume, lipid stores are depleted by ACTH
  • Zona reticularis: innermost layer of cortex, secretes androgens and small amounts of glucocorticoids; grossly brown; haphazardly arranged cells, smaller than zona fasciculata cells, with granular and eosinophilic cytoplasm with lipofuscin but minimal lipid; thinner than zona glomerulosa or fasciculata
Microscopic (histologic) images

Contributed by Debra L. Zynger, M.D.
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Zona glomerulosa and fasiculata

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Zona fasiculata

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Zona fasciculata and reticularis

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Zona reticularis

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Zona reticularis with lipofuscin

Images hosted on other servers:

Reticularis lipid stain

Cortical layers

Negative stains
Cytology description
Cytology images

Contributed by Xiaoyin "Sara" Jiang, M.D.

Normal adrenal gland

Electron microscopy description
  • Zona glomerulosa: sparse intracellular lipid, elliptical mitochondria with lamellar (plate-like) cristae; may have microvillous projections; no / rare lysosomes, lipofuscin or smooth endoplasmic reticulum
  • Zona fasciculata: round / oval mitochondria with short and long tubular cristae; prominent lipid droplets, prominent smooth endoplasmic reticulum, moderate amounts of rough endoplasmic reticulum, microvillus cytoplasmic projections and more lysosomes than zona glomerulosa
  • Zona reticularis: spherical / ovoid mitochondria with short and long tubular invaginations of inner membrane; abundant lipofuscin granules, lysosomes and microvilli; sparse lipid droplets
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