Main glands of the endocrine system
The endocrine system is a chemical messenger system comprising feedback loops of the hormones released by internal glands of an organism directly into the circulatory system, regulating distant target organs. In vertebrates, the hypothalamus is the neural control center for all endocrine systems. In humans, the major endocrine glands are the thyroid gland and the adrenal glands. The study of the endocrine system and its disorders is known as endocrinology. Endocrinology is a branch of internal medicine.
Glands that signal each other in sequence are often referred to as an axis, such as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. In addition to the specialized endocrine organs mentioned above, many other organs that are part of other body systems have secondary endocrine functions, including bone, kidneys, liver, heart and gonads. For example, the kidney secretes the endocrine hormone erythropoietin. Hormones can be amino acid complexes, steroids, eicosanoids, leukotrienes, or prostaglandins.
The endocrine system can be contrasted to both exocrine glands, which secrete hormones to the outside of the body, and paracrine signalling between cells over a relatively short distance. Endocrine glands have no ducts, are vascular, and commonly have intracellular vacuoles or granules that store their hormones. In contrast, exocrine glands, such as salivary glands, sweat glands, and glands within the gastrointestinal tract, tend to be much less vascular and have ducts or a hollow lumen.
Major endocrine systems
- TRH – TSH – T3/T4
- GnRH – LH/FSH – sex hormones
- CRH – ACTH – cortisol
- Renin – angiotensin – aldosterone
- leptin vs. insulin
Endocrine glands are glands of the endocrine system that secrete their products, hormones, directly into interstitial spaces and then absorbed into blood rather than through a duct. The major glands of the endocrine system include the pineal gland, pituitary gland, pancreas, ovaries, testes, thyroid gland, parathyroid gland, hypothalamus and adrenal glands. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are neuroendocrine organs.
The hypothalamus and the anterior pituitary are two out of the three endocrine glands that are important in cell signaling. They are both part of the HPA axis which is known to play a role in cell signaling in the nervous system.
Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus is a key regulator of the autonomic nervous system. The endocrine system has three sets of endocrine outputs which include the magnocellular system, the parvocellular system, and autonomic intervention. The magnocellular is involved in the expression of oxytocin or vasopressin. The parvocellular is involved in controlling the secretion of hormones from the anterior pituitary.
Anterior Pituitary: The main role of the anterior pituitary gland is to produce and secret tropic hormones. Some examples of tropic hormones secreted by the anterior pituitary gland include TSH, ACTH, GH, LH, and FSH.
There are many types of cells that make up the endocrine system and these cells typically make up larger tissues and organs that function within and outside of the endocrine system.
- Anterior pituitary gland
- Pineal gland
- Posterior pituitary gland
- The posterior pituitary gland is a section of the pituitary gland. This organ secretes hormones such as antidiuretic hormone (ADH) and oxytocin. ADH functions to help the body to retain water; this is important in maintaining a homeostatic balance between blood solutions and water. Oxytocin functions to induce uterine contractions, stimulate lactation, and allows for ejaculation.
- Thyroid gland
- follicular cells of the thyroid gland produce and secrete T3 and T4 in response to elevated levels of TRH, produced by the hypothalamus, and subsequent elevated levels of TSH, produced by the anterior pituitary gland, which further regulates the metabolic activity and rate of all cells, including cell growth and tissue differentiation.
- Parathyroid gland
- Epithelial cells of the parathyroid glands are richly supplied with blood from the inferior and superior thyroid arteries and secrete parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH acts on bone, the kidneys, and the GI tract to increase calcium reabsorption and phosphate excretion. In addition, PTH stimulates the conversion of Vitamin D to its most active variant, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3, which further stimulates calcium absorption in the GI tract.
- Adrenal glands
- Alpha cells
- The alpha cells of the pancreas secrete hormones to maintain homeostatic blood sugar. Insulin is produced and excreted to lower blood sugar to normal levels. Glucagon, another hormone produced by alpha cells, is secreted in response to low blood sugar levels; glucagon stimulates glycogen stores in the liver to release sugar into the bloodstream to raise blood sugar to normal levels.
- Beta cells
- Delta cells
- F Cells
- Alpha cells
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A hormone is any of a class of signaling molecules produced by glands in multicellular organisms that are transported by the circulatory system to target distant organs to regulate physiology and behaviour. Hormones have diverse chemical structures, mainly of 3 classes: eicosanoids, steroids, and amino acid/protein derivatives (amines, peptides, and proteins). The glands that secrete hormones comprise the endocrine system. The term hormone is sometimes extended to include chemicals produced by cells that affect the same cell (autocrine or intracrine signalling) or nearby cells (paracrine signalling).
Hormones are used to communicate between organs and tissues for physiological regulation and behavioral activities, such as digestion, metabolism, respiration, tissue function, sensory perception, sleep, excretion, lactation, stress, growth and development, movement, reproduction, and mood.
Hormones affect distant cells by binding to specific receptor proteins in the target cell resulting in a change in cell function. This may lead to cell type-specific responses that include rapid changes to the activity of existing proteins, or slower changes in the expression of target genes. Amino acid–based hormones (amines and peptide or protein hormones) are water-soluble and act on the surface of target cells via signal transduction pathways; steroid hormones, being lipid-soluble, move through the plasma membranes of target cells to act within their nuclei.
The typical mode of cell signalling in the endocrine system is endocrine signaling, that is, using the circulatory system to reach distant target organs. However, there are also other modes, i.e., paracrine, autocrine, and neuroendocrine signaling. Purely neurocrine signaling between neurons, on the other hand, belongs completely to the nervous system.
Autocrine signaling is a form of signaling in which a cell secretes a hormone or chemical messenger (called the autocrine agent) that binds to autocrine receptors on the same cell, leading to changes in the cells.
Some endocrinologists and clinicians include the paracrine system as part of the endocrine system, but there is not consensus. Paracrines are slower acting, targeting cells in the same tissue or organ. An example of this is somatostatin which is released by some pancreatic cells and targets other pancreatic cells.
Juxtacrine signaling is a type of intercellular communication that is transmitted via oligosaccharide, lipid, or protein components of a cell membrane, and may affect either the emitting cell or the immediately adjacent cells.
It occurs between adjacent cells that possess broad patches of closely opposed plasma membrane linked by transmembrane channels known as connexons. The gap between the cells can usually be between only 2 and 4 nm.
Diseases of the endocrine system are common, including conditions such as diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, and obesity. Endocrine disease is characterized by misregulated hormone release (a productive pituitary adenoma), inappropriate response to signaling (hypothyroidism), lack of a gland (diabetes mellitus type 1, diminished erythropoiesis in chronic kidney failure), or structural enlargement in a critical site such as the thyroid (toxic multinodular goitre). Hypofunction of endocrine glands can occur as a result of loss of reserve, hyposecretion, agenesis, atrophy, or active destruction. Hyperfunction can occur as a result of hypersecretion, loss of suppression, hyperplastic or neoplastic change, or hyperstimulation.
Endocrinopathies are classified as primary, secondary, or tertiary. Primary endocrine disease inhibits the action of downstream glands. Secondary endocrine disease is indicative of a problem with the pituitary gland. Tertiary endocrine disease is associated with dysfunction of the hypothalamus and its releasing hormones.
As the thyroid, and hormones have been implicated in signaling distant tissues to proliferate, for example, the estrogen receptor has been shown to be involved in certain breast cancers. Endocrine, paracrine, and autocrine signaling have all been implicated in proliferation, one of the required steps of oncogenesis.
Other common diseases that result from endocrine dysfunction include Addison's disease, Cushing's disease and Graves' disease. Cushing's disease and Addison's disease are pathologies involving the dysfunction of the adrenal gland. Dysfunction in the adrenal gland could be due to primary or secondary factors and can result in hypercortisolism or hypocortisolism . Cushing's disease is characterized by the hypersecretion of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) due to a pituitary adenoma that ultimately causes endogenous hypercortisolism by stimulating the adrenal glands. Some clinical signs of Cushing's disease include obesity, moon face, and hirsutism. Addison's disease is an endocrine disease that results from hypocortisolism caused by adrenal gland insufficiency. Adrenal insufficiency is significant because it is correlated with decreased ability to maintain blood pressure and blood sugar, a defect that can prove to be fatal.
Graves' disease involves the hyperactivity of the thyroid gland which produces the T3 and T4 hormones. Graves' disease effects range from excess sweating, fatigue, heat intolerance and high blood pressure to swelling of the eyes that causes redness, puffiness and in rare cases reduced or double vision.
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