Catecholamine-storing cells in the adrenal medulla of the pre- and postnatal rat. Acetylcholinesterase as a means for early discrimination of cell types

Cell Tissue Res. 1981;217(1):155-70. doi: 10.1007/BF00233834.


The development of the rat adrenal medulla was studied at the ultrastructural level with particular emphasis placed on early discrimination of different catecholamine-storing cells. The first granule-containing cells, phaeochromoblasts, were seen at day 15 of gestation migrating into the anlage of the cortex. These cells were characterized by a few small granules (80-120 nm in diameter) and a high nuclear to cytoplasmic ratio. Presumably due to differentiation into chromaffin cells, they were no longer present after the eight postnatal day. Maturation of phaeochromoblasts was indicated by an increase in number and size of their storage granules and a decrease in the nuclear to cytoplasmic ratio. Noradrenaline and adrenaline cell types were first clearly discernible at day 21 of gestation. Another cell type, a giant cell, was also recognized at this stage. In the adult animal, noradrenaline, two morphologically different types of adrenaline, and small granule-containing cells were observed. By applying acetylcholinesterase histochemistry, it was found that at day 17 of gestation a small population of granule-storing cells showed strong positive staining in the endoplasmic reticulum. In the adult animal this cell type was further characterized by small-storage granules. Other chromaffin cells began to show weak staining with the endoplasmic reticulum at day 19 of gestation. This staining appeared more frequently within adrenaline than noradrenaline cells. However, even in the adult animal many cells of both types were completely negative. It is concluded that acetylcholinesterase histochemistry is a useful method for early discrimination of small granule-containing cells in the developing rat adrenal medulla.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / metabolism*
  • Adrenal Medulla / cytology*
  • Adrenal Medulla / growth & development
  • Adrenal Medulla / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / ultrastructure
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / enzymology
  • Epinephrine / metabolism*
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / enzymology
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism*
  • Rats


  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • Norepinephrine
  • Epinephrine