Light and electron microscopic immunohistochemistry of the localization of adrenal steroidogenic enzymes

Microsc Res Tech. 1997 Mar 15;36(6):445-53. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0029(19970315)36:6<445::AID-JEMT2>3.0.CO;2-H.


Recent immunohistochemical studies have revealed the precise localization of the enzymes involved in adrenal steroidogenesis. Light microscopical investigations showed that cytochromes P450 of cholesterol side-chain cleavage enzyme (P450scc) and of 11 beta-hydroxylase (P45011 beta), 3 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase/ delta 5-4 isomerase (3 beta HSD), and 21-hydroxylase (P450C21) are localized in all the adrenocortical cells, especially in those of the zona fasciculata-reticularis. 17 alpha-Hydroxylase/C17-C20 lyase (P45017 alpha,lyase) is present in the zona fasciculata-reticularis cells of human, bovine, pig, and guinea-pig adrenals, but absent in the adrenals of some rodents such as rat, hamster, and mouse. Aldosterone synthase (P450aldo) is contained only in the zona glomerulosa cells. In the rat adrenal, P45011 beta, which catalyzes the conversion of deoxycorticosterone to corticosterone, is localized in the zona fasciculata-reticularis cells. Electron microscopic investigations demonstrated that P450scc and P45011 beta are colocalized in the matrix side of inner mitochondrial membrane including cristae, while 3 beta HSD, P450C21, and P45017 alpha, lyase are present in the membranes of smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER). These results clearly indicate that aldosterone, the most potent mineralocorticoid, is synthesized in the zona glomerulosa cells, and glucocorticoids, such as corticosterone and cortisol, are produced in the zona fasciculata-reticularis cells. The conversion of cholesterol to pregnenolone and the final steps of corticosteroid synthesis occur in the mitochondria, while the intermediate steps, leading to the synthesis of deoxycorticosterone or deoxycortisol from pregnenolone, take place in the SER membranes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 3-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases / analysis*
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / biosynthesis*
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / analysis*
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron*
  • Rats
  • Steroid 11-beta-Hydroxylase / analysis
  • Steroids / biosynthesis*


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Steroids
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • 3-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases
  • Steroid 11-beta-Hydroxylase