Adrenal gland and paraganglia

Author: Nat Pernick, M.D. (see Authors page)

Revised: 8 August 2017, last major update February 2016

Copyright: (c) 2002-2017,, Inc.

PubMed Search: Paraganglia [title] adrenal
Cite this page: Paraganglia . website. Accessed November 21st, 2018.
Definition / general
  • Neural crest origin
  • Paraganglion system is formed by neuroepithelial chief cells scattered throughout the body in 3 chains (branchiomeric, intravagal, aorticosympathetic), associated with the sympathetic (epinephrine secreting) or parasympathetic (norepinephrine secreting) nervous system
    • Also present in viscera
  • Sympathetic paraganglia are paravertebral and paraaortic
    • Parasympathetic are in head and neck
  • Terminology based on site of origin, not secretory products
  • Chief cells are arranged in well-defined nests (zellballen) surrounded by rim of sustentacular cells
  • Chief cells have cytoplasmic neurosecretory granules containing catecholamines
    • Cannot determine function of cells by their appearance
  • Called chromaffin cells because they stain yellow-brown with chromium salts
  • Adrenal medulla is considered part of paraganglion system
  • Branchiomeric chain:
    • Associated with parasympathetic nervous system, along jugular vein, vagus and larynx
  • Intravagal chain:
    • Associated with parasympathetic nervous system
    • Distributed along vagus nerve
  • Aorticosympathetic chain:
    • Associated with sympathetic nervous system
    • Along abdominal aorta
  • Organ of Zuckerkandl:
    • Cetween renal artery and aortic bifurcation, part of aorticosympathetic group
    • First described by Emil Zuckerkandl in 1901 (University of Vienna)
    • May maintain blood pressure in early fetal life, involutes after 8th month of gestation
  • Visceral paraganglia:
    • Within bladder, other organs
  • Carotid body paraganglia:
    • Part of branchiomeric system
    • Small ovoid structure on medial side of carotid bifurcation bilaterally
    • Mean total weight is 12 mg
    • Chemoreceptors that respond to changes in arterial O2, CO2 and pH
  • Glomus coccygeum:
    • Also called Luschka's gland
    • Small (2.5 mm), ovoid vascular structure near tip of coccyx
    • Composed of epithelioid cells in layers around vascular channels
    • no known function
Microscopic (histologic) images

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Carotid bodies

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Glomus coccygeum

Positive stains