Age-Related Effects of Dexamethasone Administration in Adrenal Zona Reticularis

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Suppression of adrenocorticotropic hormone results in reduced adrenal steroid output, adrenocortical cell atrophy, and apoptosis in young rats. To verify such effects during aging, dexamethasone was injected into rats for 3 days at five different ages; at day 4, adrenals and blood were collected for morphologic and corticosterone assay. Adrenal structure was similar at all ages, but in dexamethasone-injected animals there were ultrastructural features of apoptosis and a higher percentage of TUNEL and caspase-3-labeled nuclei and cytoplasm; their corticosterone decreased significantly. In both groups, there was age-related decrease in the percentage of apoptotic cells, significant only in dexamethasone-injected rats. The data suggest that aged adrenocortical cells are less susceptible to the lack of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), possibly as a result of their decreased functional ability.

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