The most striking age-related change in the human adrenal cortex is the decline in secretion of dehydroepiandrosterone and its sulfate, steroids synthesized by the inner zone of the cortex, the zona reticularis. Because these steroids are of essentially unknown function, the importance of this age-related change is the subject of considerable debate. It is likely that the age-related change in these steroids results from loss of zona reticularis cells or impairment of their function. During aging, cumulative damage to the zona reticularis could occur through ischemia-related infarcts and other causes of cell death. Cellular senescence could contribute to a loss of the ability of the tissue to replace lost cells. In contrast, feedback mechanisms that regulate adrenocortical growth cause compensatory local tissue hyperplasias called nodules. The effect of imperfect repair of damage combined with compensatory overgrowth in the form of nodules leads to an increasingly abnormal tissue architecture.
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