The adrenal glands are vital in the organism's response to environmental stress. The outer cortex releases steroid hormones: glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids and sex hormones, which are crucial to metabolism, inflammatory reactions and fluid homeostasis. The medulla is different developmentally, functionally and structurally. It co-releases catecholamines (primarily adrenaline and to some extent noradrenaline) as well as peptides by the all-or-none process of exocytosis from chromaffin granules, to aid in blood pressure and blood flow regulation, with regulated increments during the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. The co-released peptides function to regulate catecholamine release, blood vessel contraction and innate immune responses. Pathology within the adrenal medulla and the autonomic nervous system is primarily because of neoplasms. The most common tumour, called phaeochromocytoma when located in the adrenal medulla, originates from chromaffin cells and excretes catecholamines, but may be referred to as secreting paragangliomas when found in extra-adrenal chromaffin cells. Neoplasms, such as neuroblastomas and ganglioneuromas, may also be of neuronal lineage. We will also briefly discuss the catecholamine deficiency state.
Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2008 Feb;192(2):325-35. Epub 2007 Nov 16.