Modified synthetic N-POMC(1-28) without disulfide bridges has been shown to act as an adrenal mitogen. Cyclins and their inhibitors are the major cell cycle controls, but in the adrenal cortex the effect of ACTH and N-POMC on the expression of these proteins remains unclear. In this work, we evaluate the effect of different synthetic N-POMC peptides on the S-phase of the cell cycle. In addition, we examine the cyclin E expression in rat adrenal cortex. Rats treated with dexamethasone were injected with ACTH and/or synthetic modified N-POMC and/or synthetic N-POMC with disulfide bridges. DNA synthesis was determined by BrdU incorporation and protein expression was analyzed by immunoblotting and immunohistochemistry. The results showed that similarly to modified N-POMC without disulfide bridges, administration of synthetic N-POMC with disulfide bridges and the combination of ACTH and N-POMC promoted an increase of BrdU-positive nuclei in adrenal cortex. However, the proliferative effect of N-POMC was comparable to that of ACTH only in the zona glomerulosa. An increase in cyclin E expression was observed 6 h after N-POMC treatment in the outer fraction of the adrenal cortex, in agreement with immunohistochemical findings in the zona glomerulosa. In summary, the effect of synthetic N-POMC with disulfide bridges was similar to modified synthetic N-POMC, increasing proliferation in the adrenal cortex, confirming previous evidence that disulfide bridges are not essential to the N-POMC mitogenic effect. Moreover, cyclin E appears to be involved in the N-POMC- and ACTH-stimulated proliferation in the zona glomerulosa of the adrenal cortex. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.