The adrenocortical gland undergoes structural and functional remodelling in the fetal and postnatal periods. After birth, the fetal zone of the gland undergoes rapid involution in favor of the definitive cortex, which reaches maturity with the emergence of the zona reticularis(zR) at the adrenarche. The mechanisms underlying the adrenarche, the process leading to pre-puberty elevation of plasma androgens in higher primates, remain unknown, largely due to lack of any experimental model. By following up fetal and definitive cortex cell lines in mice, we showed that activation of protein kinase A (PKA) signaling mainly impacts the adult cortex by stimulating centripetal regeneration, with differentiation and then conversion of the zona fasciculata into a functional zR. Animals developed Cushing syndrome associated with primary hyperaldosteronism, suggesting possible coexistence of these hypersecretions in certain patients. Remarkably, all of these traits were sex-dependent: testicular androgens promoted WNT signaling antagonism on PKA, slowing cortical renewal and delaying onset of Cushing syndrome and the establishment of the zR in male mice, this being corrected by orchidectomy. In conclusion, zR derives from centripetal conversion of the zona fasciculata under cellular renewal induced by PKA signaling, determining the size of the adult cortex. Finally, we demonstrated that this PKA-dependent mobilization of cortical progenitors is sexually dimorphic and could, if confirmed in humans, account for female preponderance in adrenocortical pathologies.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism