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Anatomy Atlases: Atlas of Microscopic Anatomy: Section 1 - Cells Atlas of Microscopic Anatomy: Section 15 - Endocrine Glands

Plate 15.293 Suprarenal Gland

Ronald A. Bergman, Ph.D., Adel K. Afifi, M.D., Paul M. Heidger, Jr., Ph.D.
Peer Review Status: Externally Peer Reviewed

Chromaffin reaction

Plate 15.293 Suprarenal Gland

Human, Zenker's fluid, H. & E., 22 x.


This low-power micrograph illustrates the structural organization of the suprarenal gland. There are two major subdivisions: cortex and medulla.

The suprarenal cortex exhibits three distinctly different structural layers: (1) zona glomerulosa, (2) zona fasciculata, and (3) zona reticularis.

The zona glomerulosa synthesizes and secretes mineralocorticoids, primarily aldosterone, which maintains sodium and potassium (electrolyte) and water balance. Zona fasciculata, and probably zona reticularis, synthesize and secrete cortisone, cortisol, and glucocorticoids, which are concerned with the regulation of carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism. Small amounts of androgen and estrogen are also secreted by zona fasciculata and zona reticularis. The cortical cells do not store their steroid hormones.

The medulla constitutes the core of the gland. In this preparation, the medulla has a distinctly brown coloration. Zenker's* fixative contains potassium dichromate, which oxidizes catecholamines to a brown (melanin-like) color. The affinity of adrenal medullary cells for chromium salts results in what is called a chrornaffin reaction;. the cells that produce the reaction are called chromaffin cells or chromaffin granule-containing cells. Chromaffin granules contain either epinephrine or norepinephrine, a binding protein, and dopamine B-hydroxylase.

*Zenker was a nineteenth-century German pathologist.  

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