Difference between Adrenal Cortex and Adrenal Medulla

Adrenal glands are small triangular structures present at the top of both kidneys. They weigh around 4-5 grams each, and are responsible for the synthesis of hormones that are important for our body functions.

The adrenal gland is made up of two parts: the outer area is called the adrenal cortex and the inner area is called the adrenal medulla. The adrenal cortex comprises three regions: zona reticularis, zona fasciculata and zona glomerulosa. All the three regions produce different hormones that perform different functions.

The adrenal cortex produces mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids and androgens that are responsible for maintaining salt level, regulation of metabolism and development of secondary sex characters, respectively.

The adrenal medulla, on the other hand, produces catecholamines, that are stress hormones. These hormones are released in response to fight or flight situations.

Look at the points of differences between the adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla in the table below.

Adrenal Cortex

Adrenal Medulla


Adrenal cortex is the outer larger region of the adrenal gland.

Adrenal medulla is the inner smaller region of the adrenal gland.

Embryological Development

It arises from the mesoderm.

It arises from the ectoderm.

Family of Hormones Released

It produces mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids and androgens.

It produces catecholamines.

Chemical Nature of Hormones


Some are Peptides and tyrosine-derived hormones

Examples of Hormones

Cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

Adrenaline, noradrenaline and little amounts of dopamine.

Chief Functions

It is responsible for maintaining salt levels, regulating metabolism and development of secondary sex characteristics.

It releases the stress hormones in fight or flight response.

Regulation of the Gland

The hormone production in adrenal cortex is chiefly regulated by adrenocorticotropic hormone secreted by the pituitary gland.

The release of the hormones from the adrenal medulla is regulated by the sympathetic nervous system.


The adrenal cortex is essential to life, damage to this area can lead to death.

The adrenal medulla is not as essential to life in comparision.


It is composed of three layers,

  • Zona glomerulosa
  • Zona fasciculata
  • Zona reticularis

It is composed of chromaffin cells.

Related Diseases

The two most common diseases of the adrenal cortex are the

Not many diseases related to adrenal medulla are known. One disease that is known is pheochromocytoma, which is a rare tumour of the chromaffin cells.

Additional Functions

It maintains fluid homeostasis and helps in curbing inflammatory reactions.

It helps in blood flow regulation and maintaining blood pressure.

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Frequently Asked Questions


What are the similarities between the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla?

The only similarity between adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla is that they are parts of the adrenal gland that produce hormones.


Where is epinephrine produced?

Epinephrine, another name for adrenaline, is produced in the adrenal medulla.


Is epinephrine a neurotransmitter or hormone?

Epinephrine functions both as a neurotransmitter and a hormone. As a neurotransmitter, it is responsible for communication of neurons with one another in the brain. As a hormone, it functions to regulate blood pressure.


What is the difference between cortisol and epinephrine?

Cortisol which is also a stress hormone is released at much later stages from the adrenal cortex. On the other hand, epinephrine is released instantly in response to stress from the adrenal medulla.


What is the name of the hormone producing cells of the adrenal medulla?

The hormone producing cells of the adrenal medulla are called chromaffin cells.


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