In the rat adrenal cortex, aldosterone synthase cytochrome P450 (P450aldo), a mineralocorticoid synthesizing enzyme, localizes in the zona glomerulosa (zG), while cytochrome P45011β (P45011β), a glucocorticoid synthesizing enzyme, localizes in the zonae fasciculata-reticularis (zFR). In between zG and zF, a cell-layer which contains neither P450aldo nor P45011β is present, where replicating cells were abundant as judged by the incorporation of bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) and/or by detecting PCNA in their nuclei. When plasma ACTH level of the rat was raised 3-fold for 2-3 weeks by the administration of metyrapone, a potent inhibitor of glucocorticoid formation, most of zG cells containing P450aldo disappeared, while zF cells with P45011β increased. Under the conditions, the cell-layer without P450aldo and P45011β became very thin, and replicating cells were mainly in the outermost portion of zF. When angiotensin II secretion was also stimulated for 2-3 weeks by feeding the rats on Na-deficient diet, the P450aldo-containing cells proliferated to form a thicker zG (7-8 cells- thick from 1-2), while the width of zF containing P45011β decreased slightly. Coincidently the cell-layer devoid of P450aldo and P45011β became thin, though slightly, and numbers of replicating cells significantly increased in and around the inner edge of the proliferated zG. When both ACTH and angiotensin II secretions were stimulated simultaneously, the cell- layer without P450aldo and P45011β almost disappeared and replicating cells were around the boundary of zG and zF. Based on these results we propose that the cell-layer between zG and zF devoid of P450aldo and P45011β is the stem cell layer of rat adrenal cortex.
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