Get your competitive edge with Sketchy MCAT! Don't miss 15% OFF for Registration Day

Adrenal Medulla: Hormone Regulation and Action

Adrenal Gland
Endocrine System
Systems Biology

Systems Biology

The adrenal medulla is the inner region of the adrenal glands, which are situated above the kidneys and produce numerous hormones with a variety of functions. It is formed from the neural crest during fetal development and contains chromaffin cells, neuroendocrine cells that release hormones in response to input from the nervous system. These cells synthesize the catecholamines epinephrine and norepinephrine. When released into the bloodstream, these hormones support the fight, flight, or freeze responses during times of stress.

Epinephrine and norepinephrine have several physiological effects that enable the body to respond to stress. They cause bronchodilation, allowing more air to move in and out of the lungs; increase the heart rate; raise the basal metabolic rate to make more energy available; and increase glycogenolysis in liver and muscle cells, which releases glucose from the storage form glycogen. These hormones also shift blood flow towards organs and tissues involved in the fight, flight, or freeze responses, such as the skeletal muscles, heart, lungs, and brain, while decreasing blood flow to less necessary systems like the digestive tract and renal system.

Lesson Outline

<ul> <li>Introduction to the adrenal glands and adrenal medulla <ul> <li>Adrenal gland consists of two parts: adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla</li> <li>Adrenal cortex is derived from the neural crest (from the ectoderm germ layer) </ul> </li> <li>Adrenal medulla: Chromaffin Cells <ul> <li>Chromaffin cells: neuroendocrine cells that receive input from the nervous system and release hormones</li> </ul> </li> <li>Function of the adrenal medulla: hormone production and secretion <ul> <li>Main function: make and secrete the catecholamoines epinephrine and norepinephrine (amino-acid-derived hormones synthesized in chromaffin cells)</li><ul> <li>Secreted from the medulla into the bloodstream and travel to distant tissues</li></ul> </ul> </li> <li>Trigger for release: sympathetic nervous system <ul> <li>Released in response to stress</li> <li>Initiate short-term stress responses</i> <ul><li>Compare to cortisol, a hormone released from the adrenal cortex for long-term stress management</li> </ul> </li> <li>Fight, flight, or freeze responses <ul> <li>Regulated by the sympathetic nervous system, a division of the autonomic nervous system</li> <li>Activation: signals sent through autonomic nerves to the adrenal medulla, which releases epinephrine and norepinephrine into the bloodstream</li> </ul> </li> <li>Physiological effects of epinephrine and norepinephrine <ul> <li>Organ-level effects <ul> <li>Bronchodilation: relaxation of the smooth muscle lining the bronchi</li> <li>Increased heart rate</li> </ul> </li> <li>Cellular-level effects <ul> <li>Increased basal metabolic rate</li> <li>Increased glycogenolysis in liver and muscle cells</li> </ul> </li> <li>Changes in blood flow <ul> <li>Increased blood pressure and directed blood flow to organs and tissues involved in fight, flight, or freeze responses</li> <li>Decreased blood flow to the digestive tract and renal system</li> </ul>

Don't stop here!

Get access to 71 more Systems Biology lessons & 8 more full MCAT courses with one subscription!

Try 7 Days Free


What is the primary function of the adrenal medulla and its role within the adrenal glands?

The adrenal medulla is the inner portion of the adrenal glands, which are small, triangular organs located above the kidneys. The primary function of the adrenal medulla is to synthesize and secrete catecholamines, mainly epinephrine and norepinephrine, in response to stress. These hormones prepare the body for the "fight, flight, or freeze" response, allowing for rapid and necessary physiological adjustments in the face of imminent danger or challenge.

How do chromaffin cells in the adrenal medulla contribute to hormone regulation?

Chromaffin cells are specialized cells within the adrenal medulla that originate from the neural crest. They play a crucial role in hormone regulation by synthesizing and storing catecholamines, primarily epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). These cells respond to signals from the sympathetic nervous system, which is part of the autonomic nervous system that regulates many involuntary processes in the body. When stimulated, chromaffin cells release catecholamines into the bloodstream, facilitating responses to stress and our body's "fight or flight" reaction.

What is the relationship between the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal medulla?

The sympathetic nervous system is a branch of the autonomic nervous system responsible for preparing the body to handle stress by inducing the "fight, flight, or freeze" response. It directly communicates with the adrenal medulla by sending nerve impulses, primarily through the release of neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine. These nerve impulses stimulate chromaffin cells in the adrenal medulla to release catecholamines like epinephrine and norepinephrine into the bloodstream. These hormones then initiate various physiological changes to increase alertness, increase heart rate, and mobilize energy stores, preparing the body to respond to the stressor at hand.

How do epinephrine and norepinephrine impact the basal metabolic rate?

Epinephrine and norepinephrine, the primary catecholamines secreted by the adrenal medulla, have a significant impact on the body's basal metabolic rate (BMR). The BMR refers to the rate at which the body burns energy while at rest. When released into the bloodstream, both epinephrine and norepinephrine increase metabolic rate through a variety of mechanisms, including stimulating glycogen breakdown, lipolysis, and increased cardiovascular activity. These hormonal actions ensure the rapid delivery of energy substrates to the cells and provide the necessary oxygen and nutrients to support energy-demanding activities during times of stress.

What happens during the fight, flight, or freeze response, and how does the adrenal medulla play a role in this process?

The fight, flight, or freeze response is a survival mechanism that enables organisms to react quickly in the face of life-threatening situations. During this response, the sympathetic nervous system activates the adrenal medulla, causing its chromaffin cells to secrete catecholamines, mainly epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These hormones act on various organs and tissues in the body, resulting in increased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, as well as the redirection of blood flow from non-essential systems to essential organs like the heart, brain, and skeletal muscles. This physiological response prepares the body to either confront the threat (fight), escape from the situation (flight), or remain motionless and avoid detection (freeze) until the danger has passed.