Adrenal cortex

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Cortical part of the adrenal gland (on the pointer).

Situated along the perimeter of the adrenal gland, the adrenal cortex mediates the stress response through the production of mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids, including aldosterone and cortisol respectively. It is also a secondary site of androgen synthesis.


The cortex can be divided into three distinct layers of tissue based on their organization.

Layer Name Primary product
Most superficial cortical layer zona glomerulosa mineralocorticoids (eg, aldosterone)
Middle cortical layer zona fasciculata glucocorticoids (eg, cortisol)
Deepest cortical layer zona reticularis weak androgens (eg, dehydroepiandrosterone)

Steps of hormone synthesis

  • All adrenocortical hormones are synthesised from cholesterol.

The steps up to this point occur in many steroid-producing tissues. Subsequent steps, however, only occur in the adrenal cortex:


The adrenal cortex produces a number of different corticosteroid hormones:


The layers of the cortex can be remembered with the mnemonic GFR: G - glomerulosa, F - fasciculata, R - reticularis.

Another mnemonic that is used is Go Find Rex, Make Good Sex: G - glomerulosa, F - fasciculata, R - reticularis, M - mineralcorticoids, G - glucocorticoids, S - sex hormones. (This mnemonic simplifies the relationship between the locations of production of glucocorticoids and sex hormones.)

Another mnemonic is "Salt, Sugar, Sex: The deeper you go, the sweeter it gets." As one moves layers into the adrenal cortex, compounds that control salt (mineralcorticoids), sugar (glucocorticoids), and sex (weak androgens) are produced.


See also


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