Neuroendocrine [IPA nʊəroʊˈɛndəkrɪn] cells are a specialized group of nerve cells (neurons) that produce hormones. These hormones may be amines, neuropeptides, or specialized amino acids. They package the hormones in vesicles and send these packages via long processes (axons) to blood vessels. When stimulated (by hormones from the blood stream or other neurons) the neuroendocrine cells secrete the hormones into the blood stream. The hormones then travel to their target cells and may stimulate, inhibit or maintain function of these cells. The target cells may feed back information to these neurons that regulates further secretion.
Specialized groups of neuroendocrine cells can be found at the base of the third ventricle in the brain (in a region called the hypothalamus). This area controls most anterior pituitary cells and thereby regulates functions in the entire body, like responses to stress, cold, sleep, and the reproductive system. The neurons send processes to a region connecting to the pituitary stalk and the hormones (called releasing or inhibiting hormones) are released into the blood stream. They are carried by portal vessels to the pituitary cells where they may stimulate, inhibit, or maintain the function of a particular cell type. Many of the projects in the neuroendocrine group focus on the regulatory circuitry in this pathway.