The adrenal glands are located superior to the kidneys and consist of two anatomically and chemically distinct structures: an outer cortical region in which steroid hormones are synthesized, and an inner medullary area in which cat-echolamines are produced. The cortex is divided into three zones: the zona fasciculata, which secretes glucocorticoids; the zona reticularis, which is responsible for adrenal androgen production; and the zona glomerulosa, which releases mineralocorticoids.
The glucocorticoids represent the end product of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and are involved in a myriad of functional responses in the organism. These hormones serve as major regulators of carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, in adaptation to stress; in linking sleep and waking states; in food-seeking and cognitive behaviors; in controlling emotional states; in mediating anaphylactic and immune responses; in modulating the responses to neurochemicals, hormones, and growth factors; and in the differentiation and development of cells (Munck, Guyre, & Holbrook, 1984; Tsigos and Chrousos, 1994). Cortisol is the principal natural glucocorticoid in humans, whereas in many animals corticosterone is the primary glucocorticoid.
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