37.5: Endocrine glands (2023)

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    Skills for Development

    • Describe the role of different glands in the endocrine system
    • Explain how different glands work together to maintain homeostasis

    Both the endocrine and nervous systems use chemical signals to communicate and regulate the body's physiology. The endocrine system releases hormones that act on target cells to regulate growth, development, energy metabolism, reproduction, and many behaviors. The nervous system releases neurotransmitters or neurohormones that regulate neurons, muscle cells, and endocrine cells. Because neurons can regulate the release of hormones, the nervous and endocrine systems work in a coordinated manner to regulate the body's physiology.

    Hypothalamic-Pituitary Axis

    Thehypothalamusin vertebrates it integrates the endocrine and nervous systems. The hypothalamus is an endocrine organ located in the diencephalon of the brain. It receives information from the body and other areas of the brain and activates endocrine responses to environmental changes. The hypothalamus acts as an endocrine organ, synthesizing hormones and transporting them along axons to the posterior pituitary. It synthesizes and secretes regulatory hormones that control endocrine cells in the anterior pituitary gland. The hypothalamus contains autonomous centers that control the endocrine cells in the adrenal medulla through neuronal control.

    Themucosa, sometimes called the pituitary gland or "master gland" is located at the base of the brain in the sella turcica, a groove of the sphenoid bone of the skull, shown in Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\). It is connected to the hypothalamus through a stalk calledpituitary stalk(or background). The anterior pituitary is regulated by releasing or inhibiting the release of hormones produced by the hypothalamus, and the posterior pituitary receives signals through neurosecretory cells to release hormones produced by the hypothalamus. The pituitary gland has two distinct regions—the anterior pituitary and the posterior pituitary—which between them secrete nine different peptide or protein hormones. The posterior lobe of the pituitary gland contains axons of the neurons of the hypothalamus.

    37.5: Endocrine glands (2)

    Anterior pituitary gland

    Theanterior pituitary glandgland, or adenohypophysis, is surrounded by a capillary network that extends from the hypothalamus, down along the inferior fundus and toward the anterior pituitary gland. This capillary network is part of itpituitary portal systemwhich transports substances from the hypothalamus to the anterior pituitary and hormones from the anterior pituitary to the circulatory system. A portal system transports blood from one capillary network to another. Therefore, the pituitary portal system allows hormones produced by the hypothalamus to be transported directly to the anterior pituitary without first entering the circulatory system.

    The anterior pituitary gland produces seven hormones: growth hormone (GH), prolactin (PRL), thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), melanin-stimulating hormone (MSH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone. hormone (LH). Anterior pituitary hormones are sometimes referred to as tropic hormones because they control the function of other organs. While these hormones are produced by the anterior pituitary gland, their production is controlled by regulatory hormones produced by the hypothalamus. These regulatory hormones can be releasing hormones or inhibitory hormones, causing the anterior pituitary to secrete more or less hormones. These travel from the hypothalamus through the pituitary portal system to the anterior pituitary where they exert their effect. Negative feedback then regulates how many of these regulatory hormones are released and how much anterior pituitary hormone is secreted.

    Posterior pituitary

    Theposterior pituitary glanddiffers significantly in structure from the anterior pituitary. It is a part of the brain that extends down from the hypothalamus and contains mainly nerve fibers and glial cells, which support axons that extend from the hypothalamus to the posterior pituitary gland. The posterior pituitary and the threshold together are referred to as the neurohypophysis.

    The hormones antidiuretic hormone (ADH), also known as vasopressin, and oxytocin are produced by neurons in the hypothalamus and transported in these axons along the background to the posterior pituitary. They are released into the circulatory system via nerve signaling from the hypothalamus. These hormones are considered posterior pituitary hormones, even though they are produced by the hypothalamus, because that is where they are released into the circulatory system. The posterior pituitary itself does not produce hormones, but stores hormones produced by the hypothalamus and releases them into the bloodstream.

    Thyroid gland

    Thethyroid glandit is located in the throat, just below the larynx and in front of the trachea, as shown in figure \(\PageIndex{2}\). It is a butterfly-shaped gland with two lobes connected to itisthmus. It has a dark red color due to its extensive vascular system. When the thyroid becomes enlarged due to dysfunction, it can be felt under the skin of the neck.

    37.5: Endocrine glands (3)

    The thyroid gland consists of several spherical thyroid follicles, which are lined with a simple cuboidal epithelium. These follicles contain a thick fluid, calledcolloid, which stores the glycoprotein thyroglobulin, the precursor of thyroid hormones. The follicles produce hormones that can be stored in the colloid or released into the surrounding capillary network for transport to the rest of the body via the circulatory system.

    Thyroid follicle cells synthesize the hormone thyroxine, also known as T4because it contains four iodine atoms and triiodothyronine, also known as T3because it contains three iodine atoms. Follicular cells are stimulated to release stored T3and T4by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced by the anterior pituitary gland. These thyroid hormones increase mitochondrial ATP production rates.

    A third hormone, calcitonin, is produced byfollicular cellsof the thyroid either releasing hormones or inhibiting hormones. Calcitonin release is not controlled by TSH, but is released when calcium ion concentrations in the blood increase. Calcitonin works to help regulate calcium concentrations in body fluids. It acts on the bones to inhibit osteoclast activity and on the kidneys to stimulate calcium excretion. The combination of these two events lowers calcium levels in body fluid.

    Parathyroid glands

    Most people have fourparathyroid glands; However, the number can vary from two to six. These glands are located on the posterior surface of the thyroid gland, as shown in Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\). Normally, there is a superior gland and an inferior gland associated with each of the two lobes of the thyroid. Each parathyroid gland is covered by connective tissue and contains many secretory cells connected by a capillary network.

    37.5: Endocrine glands (4)

    The parathyroid glands produce parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH increases blood calcium concentrations when calcium ion levels fall below normal. PTH (1) enhances Ca reabsorption2+by the kidney, (2) stimulates osteoclast activity and inhibits osteoblast activity, and (3) stimulates renal calcitriol synthesis and secretion, which enhances Ca2+absorption from the digestive system. PTH is produced by the chief cells of the parathyroid. PTH and calcitonin work in opposition to each other to maintain Ca homeostasis2+levels in body fluids. Another type of cells, oxyphil cells, are present in the parathyroid but their function is not known. These hormones encourage bone growth, muscle mass, and blood cell formation in children and women.

    Adrenal glands

    Theadrenal glandsrelated to the kidneys. a gland is located on top of each kidney, as shown in Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\). The adrenal glands consist of an outer adrenal cortex and an inner adrenal medulla. These areas secrete different hormones.

    37.5: Endocrine glands (5)

    Adrenal cortex

    Theadrenal cortexconsists of layers of epithelial cells and associated capillary networks. These layers form three distinct regions: an outer glomerular zone that produces mineralocorticoids, a middle zona fasciculata that produces glucocorticoids, and an inner reticular zone that produces androgens.

    The main mineralocorticoid is aldosterone, which regulates Na concentration+ions in urine, sweat, pancreas and saliva. The release of aldosterone from the adrenal cortex is stimulated by a decrease in blood sodium ion concentrations, blood volume or blood pressure, or by an increase in blood potassium levels.

    The three main glucocorticoids are cortisol, corticosterone and cortisone. Glucocorticoids stimulate glucose synthesis and gluconeogenesis (conversion of a non-carbohydrate into glucose) by liver cells and promote the release of fatty acids from adipose tissue. These hormones increase blood glucose levels to keep levels in a normal range between meals. These hormones are secreted in response to ACTH and levels are regulated by negative feedback.

    Androgens are sex hormones that promote masculinity. They are produced in small amounts by the adrenal cortex in both men and women. They do not affect sexual characteristics and may supplement the sex hormones released by the gonads.

    Adrenal medulla

    Theadrenal medullacontains large, irregularly shaped cells closely associated with blood vessels. These cells are innervated by preganglionic autonomic nerve fibers from the central nervous system.

    The adrenal medulla contains two types of secretory cells: one that produces epinephrine (adrenaline) and another that produces norepinephrine (noradrenaline). Epinephrine is the major hormone of the adrenal medulla accounting for 75 to 80 percent of its secretions. Epinephrine and norepinephrine increase heart rate, breathing rate, heart muscle contractions, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels. They also speed up the breakdown of glucose in skeletal muscle and stored fat in adipose tissue.

    The release of epinephrine and norepinephrine is stimulated by nerve impulses from the sympathetic nervous system. The secretion of these hormones is stimulated by the release of acetylcholine from preganglionic sympathetic fibers innervating the adrenal medulla. These nerve impulses come from the hypothalamus in response to stress to prepare the body for the fight or flight response.


    Thepancreas, depicted in Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\), is an elongated organ located between the stomach and the proximal part of the small intestine. It contains both exocrine cells that secrete digestive enzymes and endocrine cells that release hormones. It is sometimes referred to as a heterocrine gland because it has both endocrine and exocrine functions.

    37.5: Endocrine glands (6)

    The endocrine cells of the pancreas form groups called pancreatic islets or theislets of Langerhans, as shown in the thumbnail shown in Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\). Pancreatic islets contain two main types of cells:alpha cells, which produce the hormone glucagon, andbeta cells, which produce the hormone insulin. These hormones regulate blood glucose levels. As blood glucose levels fall, alpha cells release glucagon to raise blood glucose levels by increasing the rates of glycogen breakdown and glucose release from the liver. When blood glucose levels rise, such as after a meal, beta cells release insulin to lower blood glucose levels by increasing the rate of glucose uptake in most cells of the body and increasing glycogen synthesis in skeletal muscle and the liver. Together, glucagon and insulin regulate blood glucose levels.

    37.5: Endocrine glands (7)


    The pineal gland produces melatonin. The rate of melatonin production is affected by photoperiod. In addition to the visual pathways, they innervate the pineal gland. During the photoperiod of the day, some melatonin is produced. However, melatonin production increases during the dark photoperiod (night). In some mammals, melatonin has an inhibitory effect on reproductive functions by reducing the production and maturation of sperm, eggs and reproductive organs. Melatonin is an effective antioxidant, protecting the CNS from free radicals such as nitric oxide and hydrogen peroxide. Finally, melatonin is involved in biological rhythms, particularly circadian rhythms such as the sleep-wake cycle and eating habits.


    The gonads—male testicles and female ovaries—produce steroid hormones. The testes produce androgens, with testosterone being the most important, which allow the development of secondary sex characteristics and the production of sperm. The ovaries produce estradiol and progesterone, which cause secondary sex characteristics and prepare the body for childbirth.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\):Endocrine glands and their related hormones
    Endocrine Gland Related Hormones Result
    Hypothalamus release and inhibition of hormones regulates the release of hormones from the pituitary gland. produce oxytocin. cause uterine contractions and secretion of milk in women
    antidiuretic hormone (ADH) reabsorption of water by the kidneys. vasoconstriction to increase blood pressure
    Pituitary (Anterior) growth hormone (GH) promotes the growth of body tissues, protein synthesis. metabolic functions
    prolactin (PRL) promotes milk production
    thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) stimulates the release of thyroid hormones
    adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulates the release of hormones from the adrenal cortex, glucocorticoids
    follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) stimulates the production of gametes (both eggs and sperm). estradiol secretion
    luteinizing hormone (LH) stimulates the production of androgens by the gonads. ovulation, progesterone secretion
    melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH) stimulates the melanocytes of the skin by increasing the production of melanin pigment.
    Pituitary gland (posterior) antidiuretic hormone (ADH) stimulates water reabsorption by the kidneys
    oxytocin stimulates uterine contractions during childbirth. milk extrusion; stimulates the prostate gland and contraction during emission
    Thyroid thyroxine, triiodothyronine stimulation and maintenance of metabolism. growth and development
    calcitonin lowers blood Ca2+flat
    Parathyroid parathyroid hormone (PTH) increases blood Ca2+flat
    Adrenal glands (Cortex) aldosterone increases blood Na+flat? increase K+secretion
    cortisol, corticosterone, cortisone increase in blood glucose levels. anti-inflammatory effects
    Adrenal glands (Medulla) epinephrine, norepinephrine stimulation of the fight or flight response. increase in blood glucose levels. increase metabolic activities
    Pancreas insulin lowers blood glucose levels
    glucagon increases blood glucose levels
    Epiphysis melatonin regulates certain biological rhythms and protects the CNS from free radicals
    Bullocks androgens regulating, promoting, increasing or maintaining sperm production; male secondary sexual characteristics
    Ovaries estrogen promotes the growth of the lining of the uterus. female secondary sexual characteristics
    progestins promotes and maintains the growth of the uterine lining

    Organs with Secondary Endocrine Functions

    There are many organs whose primary functions are non-endocrine but also possess endocrine functions. These include the heart, kidneys, intestines, thymus, gonads and adipose tissue.

    The heart has endocrine cells in the walls of the atria that are specialized cardiac muscle cells. These cells release the hormoneatrial natriuretic peptide (ANP)in response to increased blood volume. The high blood volume causes the cells to stretch, resulting in the release of hormones. ANP acts on the kidneys to decrease Na reabsorption+, causing Na+and water that must be excreted in the urine. ANP also reduces the amounts of renin released by the kidneys and aldosterone released by the adrenal cortex, further preventing water retention. In this way ANP causes a decrease in blood volume and blood pressure and decreases Na concentration+in the blood.

    The gastrointestinal tract produces several hormones that aid in digestion. Endocrine cells are found in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract throughout the stomach and small intestine. Some of the hormones produced include gastrin, secretin and cholecystokinin, which are secreted in the presence of food and some of which act on other organs such as the pancreas, gall bladder and liver. They trigger the release of gastric juices, which help break down and digest food in the gastrointestinal tract.

    While the adrenal glands associated with the kidneys are largeendocrine glands, the kidneys themselves also have an endocrine function. Renin is released in response to reduced blood volume or pressure and is part of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system that leads to the release of aldosterone. Aldosterone then causes Na retention+and water, increasing blood volume. The kidneys also release calcitriol, which helps absorb Ca2+and phosphate ions.Erythropoietin (EPO)is a protein hormone that triggers the formation of red blood cells in the bone marrow. EPO is released in response to low oxygen levels. Because red blood cells are oxygen carriers, increased production results in a greater supply of oxygen throughout the body. EPO has been used by athletes to improve performance, as greater oxygen delivery to muscle cells allows for greater endurance. Because red blood cells increase blood viscosity, artificially high levels of EPO can cause serious health risks.

    Theangerlocated behind the sternum. it is more prominent in infants, and becomes smaller in size during adulthood. The thymus produces hormones called thymosins, which help develop the immune response.

    Adipose tissue is a connective tissue found throughout the body. It produces the hormoneleptinin response to food intake. Leptin increases the activity of anorexigenic neurons and decreases the activity of orexigenic neurons, creating a feeling of satiety after eating, thereby affecting appetite and reducing the desire for further food. Leptin is also related to reproduction. It must be present for GnRH and gonadotropin synthesis to occur. Extremely thin females may enter puberty late. However, if adipose tissue levels increase, more leptin will be produced, improving fertility.


    The pituitary gland is located at the base of the brain and is connected to the hypothalamus via the fundus. The anterior pituitary receives products from the hypothalamus from the pituitary portal system and produces six hormones. The posterior pituitary gland is an extension of the brain and releases hormones (antidiuretic hormone and oxytocin) produced by the hypothalamus.

    The thyroid gland is located in the neck and consists of two lobes connected by the isthmus. The thyroid consists of follicular cells that produce the hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine. Parafollicular cells of the thyroid produce calcitonin. The parathyroid glands are located on the back surface of the thyroid gland and produce parathyroid hormone.

    The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys and consist of the renal cortex and the renal medulla. The adrenal cortex is the outer part of the adrenal glands and produces corticosteroids, glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids. The adrenal medulla is the inner part of the adrenal gland and produces the catecholamines epinephrine and norepinephrine.

    The pancreas is located in the abdomen between the stomach and the small intestine. Clusters of endocrine cells in the pancreas form the islets of Langerhans, which consist of alpha cells that release glucagon and beta cells that release insulin.

    Some organs have endocrine activity as a secondary function but have another primary function. The heart produces the hormone atrial natriuretic peptide, which works to reduce blood volume, pressure, and Na+concentration. The gastrointestinal tract produces various hormones that aid in digestion. The kidneys produce renin, calcitriol and erythropoietin. Adipose tissue produces leptin, which promotes satiety signals to the brain.


    adrenal cortex
    outer part of the adrenal gland that produces corticosteroids
    adrenal glands
    endocrine glands associated with the kidneys
    adrenal medulla
    inner part of the adrenal glands that produces epinephrine and norepinephrine
    alpha cell
    endocrine cell of the pancreatic islets that produces the hormone glucagon
    anterior pituitary gland
    part of the pituitary gland that produces six hormones. also called adenohypophysis
    atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP)
    hormone produced by the heart to reduce blood volume, pressure, and Na+concentration
    beta cell
    endocrine cell of the pancreatic islets that produces the hormone insulin
    fluid within the thyroid gland that contains the glycoprotein thyroglobulin
    endocrine gland
    gland that secretes hormones into the surrounding interstitial fluid, which then diffuses into the blood and is carried to various organs and tissues of the body
    erythropoietin (EPO)
    hormone produced by the kidneys to stimulate the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow
    pituitary portal system
    system of blood vessels that carries hormones from the hypothalamus to the anterior pituitary gland
    islets of Langerhans (pancreatic islets)
    endocrine cells of the pancreas
    tissue mass connecting the two lobes of the thyroid gland
    hormone produced by adipose tissue that promotes feelings of satiety and reduces hunger
    organ located between the stomach and small intestine that contains exocrine and endocrine cells
    parafollicular cell
    thyroid cell that produces the hormone calcitonin
    parathyroid gland
    gland located on the surface of the thyroid gland that produces parathyroid hormone
    endocrine gland located at the base of the brain consisting of an anterior and posterior region. also called the pituitary gland
    pituitary stalk
    (also, infundibulum) stalk connecting the pituitary gland to the hypothalamus
    posterior pituitary gland
    brain expansion that releases hormones produced by the hypothalamus. Along with the fundus, it is also referred to as the neurohypophysis
    gland located behind the sternum that produces thymosin hormones that help develop the immune system
    thyroid gland
    endocrine gland located in the neck that produces the thyroid hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine


    37.5: Endocrine glands? ›

    The endocrine system consists of a series of glands that produce chemical substances known as hormones. Like neurotransmitters, hormones are chemical messengers that must bind to a receptor in order to send their signal.

    What causes high endocrine levels? ›

    Endocrine hypertension can be caused when glands produce too much or not enough hormone, or when they are affected by tumors.
    • Primary Aldosteronism. ...
    • Cushing's Syndrome. ...
    • Pheochromocytoma. ...
    • Acromegaly. ...
    • Hyperthyroidism or Hypothyroidism. ...
    • Other Causes of Endocrine Hypertension and Related Syndromes:

    What is 3.5 the endocrine system? ›

    The endocrine system consists of a series of glands that produce chemical substances known as hormones. Like neurotransmitters, hormones are chemical messengers that must bind to a receptor in order to send their signal.

    What is high endocrine? ›

    The endocrine system is a series of glands that secrete hormones that the body uses for a wide range of functions, including regulating blood pressure. Adrenal glands: If the adrenal glands make too much aldosterone, cortisol, or hormones similar to adrenaline, it can cause high blood pressure.

    How do you know if your endocrine system is healthy? ›

    While each endocrine disorder has its own set of symptoms, some of the most common symptoms found among many of them include:
    • Mood swings.
    • Fatigue.
    • Weakness.
    • Unintended weight fluctuations.
    • Changes in blood glucose levels or cholesterol levels.

    How do you fix endocrine imbalance? ›

    Here are some ways to naturally balance your hormones.
    1. Get enough protein. ...
    2. Exercise regularly. ...
    3. Maintain a moderate weight. ...
    4. Watch your gut health. ...
    5. Lower sugar intake. ...
    6. Reduce stress. ...
    7. Get enough sleep. ...
    8. Eat healthy fats.

    What is the most common disorder involving endocrine glands? ›

    In the United States, the most common endocrine disease is diabetes. There are many others. They are usually treated by controlling how much hormone your body makes.

    What are normal endocrine levels? ›

    Jump to a Section
    HormoneTime/condition of sampleNormal value or range SI (traditional units)
    Prolactin2–15 μg/L (2–15 ng/mL)
    Growth hormonePost 100 g glucose PO<5 μg/L (<5 ng/mL)
    TSH0.4–5 mU/L (0.4–5 μU/mL
    Thyroxine (T4)64–154 nmol/L (5–12 μg/dL)
    37 more rows

    What are endocrine levels? ›

    The endocrine system regulates how much of each hormone is released. This can depend on levels of hormones already in the blood, or on levels of other substances in the blood, like calcium. Many things affect hormone levels, such as stress, infection, and changes in the balance of fluid and minerals in blood.

    Which organ has endocrine function? ›

    The hormones released by the endocrine system control many important functions in the body, including growth and development, metabolism, and reproduction. The endocrine system includes the hypothalamus, pineal gland, pituitary gland, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, thymus, adrenal glands, and pancreas.

    What is an overactive endocrine gland? ›

    What is hyperpituitarism (overactive pituitary gland)? When your pituitary gland is overactive, it releases excessive amounts of certain types of pituitary hormones into your bloodstream. A noncancerous (benign) tumor in the gland, called a pituitary adenoma, is usually the cause of this condition.

    Does endocrine mean diabetes? ›

    Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are caused by problems with insulin production or response and are, as a result, inextricably linked to the endocrine system. The difference is in the type and cause of the malfunction: Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own endocrine system.

    What are 3 types of endocrine disorders? ›

    Types of Endocrine Disorders
    • Adrenal Insufficiency. Adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys, produce various hormones. ...
    • Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) ...
    • Hyperaldosteronism. ...
    • Osteoporosis. ...
    • Pituitary Disorders. ...
    • Thyroid Disorders.

    What diseases affect the endocrine? ›

    Endocrine Disease Topics
    • Acromegaly.
    • Adrenal Insufficiency & Addison's Disease.
    • Cushing's Syndrome.
    • Cystic Fibrosis link.
    • Graves' Disease.
    • Hashimoto's Disease.

    How do you clear your endocrine system? ›

    10 Natural Ways to Balance Your Hormones
    1. Eat enough protein at every meal. ...
    2. Engage in regular exercise. ...
    3. Maintain a moderate weight. ...
    4. Take care of your gut health. ...
    5. Lower your sugar intake. ...
    6. Try stress reduction techniques. ...
    7. Consume healthy fats. ...
    8. Get consistent, high quality sleep.
    Jan 31, 2022

    What are 4 problems of the endocrine system? ›

    Common Endocrine Disorders

    Prolactinoma (excess production of prolactin by the pituitary gland) Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) Hashimoto's thyroiditis (an autoimmune disease resulting in low production of thyroid hormone and hypothyroidism)

    What are 3 disorders of the endocrine system? ›

    Types of Endocrine Disorders
    • Adrenal Insufficiency. Adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys, produce various hormones. ...
    • Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) ...
    • Hyperaldosteronism. ...
    • Osteoporosis. ...
    • Pituitary Disorders. ...
    • Thyroid Disorders.

    What is the most common cause of endocrine hypertension? ›

    The most common causes of endocrine hypertension are excess production of mineralocorticoids (i.e. primary hyperaldosteronism), catecholamines (pheochromocytoma), thyroid hormone, and glucocorticoids (Cushing syndrome) (17).


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