The three zones of adrenal cortex are thought to arise from a single multipotential stem cell, but the mechanisms underlying the zonal differentiation during embryonic development of adrenal cortex are poorly understood. Employing subtraction cloning strategy, we isolated three distinct clones that were specifically expressed in the rat glomerulosa zone. One clone, named zona glomerulosa specific clone, encoded a membrane-spanning protein with a signal peptide at the N-terminus, six epidermal growth factor- like repeat motifs, and a transmembrane domain near the C-terminus. It was identified as a rat homolog of preadipocyte factor-1 (Pref-1), a factor involved in maintaining the undifferentiated status of preadipocyte. Immunohistochemical studies confirmed the presence of Pref-1 protein in the glomerulosa zone. Detailed examination revealed that the zone is divided into two layers; the first is a few-cells-thick layer present underneath the capsule (expressing both Pref-1 protein and aldostetone synthase cytochrome P450), and the second layer is beneath the first (containing Pref-1 protein but not aldosterone synthase). Moreover, another cell layer was found beneath the second layer and above the fasciculata zone, whose cells contained no Pref-1 protein, aldosterone synthase, or 11β-hydroxylase. These findings suggest that a recently reported aldosterone synthase- and 11β-hydroxylase- less cell layer between the two zones (see Ref. 16) is composed of two kinds of cell: Pref-1 protein-positive and -negative cells. The level of Pref-1 message in the adrenal glands of animals having various pituitary-adrenal axis activities, as well as various plasma salt concentrations, correlated with the total number of glomerulosa cells. However, the specific content of Pref-1 message in a cell was fairly constant. When the adrenal gland was surgically enucleated and the remaining capsule regenerated, the level of Pref-1 transcript was significantly suppressed at the early phase. At this phase, only a minor population of the cortical cells expressed Pref-1 protein, most of these cells already expressing a fasciculata/reticularis- specific marker, inner zone antigen. These findings suggest that the capsular cells, mostly composed of the glomerulosa cells, may have potential for differentiating into other zones' cells, and the down-regulation of Pref-1 expression may be an important step in the adrenal zonal differentiation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas