Lack of an adrenal cortex in Sf1 mutant mice is compatible with the generation and differentiation of chromaffin cells

Philipp Gut, Katrin Huber*, Jennifer Lohr, Barbara Brühl, Stephan Oberle, Mathias Treier, Uwe Ernsberger, Chaya Kalcheim, Klaus Unsicker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


The diversification of neural-crest-derived sympatho-adrenal (SA) progenitor cells into sympathetic neurons and neuroendocrine adrenal chromaffin cells was thought to be largely understood. In-vitro studies with isolated SA progenitor cells had suggested that chromaffin cell differentiation depends crucially on glucocorticoids provided by adrenal cortical cells. However, analysis of mice lacking the glucocorticoid receptor gene had revealed that adrenal chromaffin cells develop mostly normally in these mice. Alternative cues from the adrenal cortex that may promote chromaffin cell determination and differentiation have not been identified. We therefore investigated whether the chromaffin cell phenotype can develop in the absence of an adrenal cortex, using mice deficient for the nuclear orphan receptor steroidogenic factor-1 (SF1), which lack adrenal cortical cells and gonads. We show that in Sf1-/- mice typical chromaffin cells assemble correctly in the suprarenal region adjacent to the suprarenal sympathetic ganglion. The cells display most features of chromaffin cells, including the typical large chromaffin granules. Sf1-/- chromaffin cells are numerically reduced by about 50% compared with the wild type at embryonic day (E) 13.5 and E17.5. This phenotype is not accounted for by reduced survival or cell proliferation beyond E12.5. However, already at E12.5 the 'adrenal' region in Sf1-/- mice is occupied by fewer PHOX2B+ and TH+ SA cells as well as SOX10+ neural crest cells. Our results suggest that cortical cues are not essential for determining chromaffin cell fate, but may be required for proper migration of SA progenitors to and/or colonization of the adrenal anlage.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)4611-4619
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Embryology and Experimental Morphology
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 2005


  • Chromaffin phenotype
  • Mouse
  • Neuroendocrine cells
  • SF1 (NR5A1)
  • Sympathoadrenal cell lineage


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