One focus of our research is defining basic mechanisms and clinical implications of cellular crosstalk in endocrine tissues. The adrenal gland comprises two endocrine tissues of distinct origin, the catecholamine-producing medulla and the steroid-producing cortex. Using the adrenal gland as a model we have demonstrated that tissue integrity, input from the nervous system or intercellular communication is essential for the normal functioning of the gland and the adequate respond to the homeostatic challenges of stress. We have demonstrated that intact intraglandular cellular interactions are required for normal development, differentiation and zonation of the adrenals and that alterations in intercellular communication, local production of neuropeptides, growth factors and cytokines, and aberrant expression of ectopic receptors are implicated in adrenal hyperplasia, autonomic hormone production and tumour formation.
In ongoing research, we are now focussing on the involvement of these intraglandular cellular interactions in the development of adrenomedullary neuroendocrine cells from neural crest-derived proliferation competent cells.