Embryological and molecular development of the adrenal glands

Clin Anat. 2015 Mar;28(2):235-42. doi: 10.1002/ca.22422. Epub 2014 Sep 25.


In this mini review, the embryological and functional development of the adrenal glands is presented from a molecular perspective. While acknowledging that this is a highly complex series of events, the processes are described in simple and broad strokes in a single text for the reader who is interested in this field but is not an active researcher. The origin of the adrenal glands is in the mesodermal ridge as early as the fourth week of gestation. Between the eighth and ninth weeks of gestation, the adrenal glands are encapsulated and this results in the presence of a distinct organ. There have been great strides in deciphering the very complicated molecular aspects of adrenal gland development in which multiple transcription factors have been identified, directing the adrenogonadal primordium into the adrenal cortex, kidney, or bipotential gonad. Adrenocorticotrophic hormone is critical for early development of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis. Several mutations in transcription factors, responsible for normal adrenal gland development have been found to induce the familial syndrome of congenital adrenal hypoplasia or neoplasia.

Keywords: adrenogonadal primordium; genetics of adrenal tumors; molecular development; transcription factors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Addison Disease / genetics
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / genetics
  • Adrenal Glands / embryology*
  • Adrenal Glands / metabolism
  • Adrenocortical Carcinoma / genetics
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / metabolism
  • Fetus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / genetics


  • Transcription Factors
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • Hydrocortisone