The fine structure of the different zones in the adrenal cortex of the adult rat has been studied under the electron microscope. Four regions mainly differentiated by the mitochondrial morphology, the lipid droplets, and the structure of the ground cytoplasm were recognized. In the glomerular zone mitochondria are thin and elongated with an abundant matrix. The inner structure is characterized by the presence of tubules of 300 A that are straight or bend at an angle and which may be grouped in parallel array giving a pseudocrystalline pattern. The wall of each tubule is a finger-like projection of the inner membrane and its cavity corresponds to the outer chamber of the mitochondrion. In the intermediary zone mitochondria are larger and irregular. The matrix is filled with convoluted tubules and vesicular elements. The lipid droplets are larger and irregular in the glomerulosa and and small in the intermedia. The ground substance is dense and contains free ribosomes in the glomerulosa and starts to be vacuolated in the intermedia. In the fasciculata mitochondria are round or oval and are filled with vesicular elements with a mean size of 450 A. Larger vesicles and more clear elements (vacuoles) are seen near the edge as if their content was diluted. Some of these vacuoles protrude on the surface. In the reticular zone mitochondria are also vesicular but frequently show signs of alteration and disruption. Dense elements recognized as microbodies are observed in the fasciculata but they increase in number in the reticularis. These results are discussed on the light of the so called zonal theory of the adrenal cortex. Two stages in the differentiation of the mitochondria are postulated. The tubular structure of the glomerulosa undergoes a process of disorientation and dilatation of the tubules to form the tubulo-vesicular elements of the intermediary zone. In a second stage of differentiation, by fragmentation of the tubules, the vesicular structure of fasciculata is formed. These findings are discussed from the viewpoint of the relationship between mitochondria and synthesis of steroid hormones. A secretory process that starts within mitochondria by the formation of vesicles and proceeds into the ground cytoplasm, as extruded and more clear vacuoles, is postulated.

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