The human adrenal cortex
growth control and disorders
This review summarizes key knowledge regarding the development, growth, and growth disorders of the adrenal cortex from a molecular perspective. The adrenal gland consists of two distinct regions: the cortex and the medulla. During embryological development and transition to the adult adrenal gland, the adrenal cortex acquires three different structural and functional zones. Significant progress has been made in understanding the signaling and molecules involved during adrenal cortex zonation. Equally significant is the knowledge obtained regarding the action of peptide factors involved in the maintenance of zonation of the adrenal cortex, such as peptides derived from proopiomelanocortin processing, adrenocorticotropin and N-terminal proopiomelanocortin. Findings regarding the development, maintenance and growth of the adrenal cortex and the molecular factors involved has improved the scientific understanding of disorders that affect adrenal cortex growth. Hypoplasia, hyperplasia and adrenocortical tumors, including adult and pediatric adrenocortical adenomas and carcinomas, are described together with findings regarding molecular and pathway alterations. Comprehensive genomic analyses of adrenocortical tumors have shown gene expression profiles associated with malignancy as well as methylation alterations and the involvement of miRNAs. These findings provide a new perspective on the diagnosis, therapeutic possibilities and prognosis of adrenocortical disorders.