Endocrine system

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Major endocrine glands. (Male left, female on the right.) 1. Pineal gland 2. Pituitary gland 3. Thyroid gland 4. Thymus 5. Adrenal gland 6. Pancreas 7. Ovary 8. Testes

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Editors-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] and Stephanie Fernandez, M.D. [2]

The endocrine system is an integrated system of small organs that involve the release of extracellular signaling molecules known as hormones. The endocrine system is instrumental in regulating metabolism, growth and development and puberty, tissue function, and plays a part also in mood.[1] The field of medicine that deals with disorders of endocrine glands is endocrinology, a branch of the wider field of internal medicine.


The Endocrine system is an information signal system much like the nervous system. However, the nervous system uses nerves to conduct information, whereas the endocrine system mainly uses blood vessels as information channels. Glands located in many regions of the body release into the bloodstream specific chemical messengers called hormones. Hormones regulate the many and varied functions of an organism, e.g., mood, growth and development, tissue function, and metabolism, as well as sending messages and acting on them.

Types of signaling

The typical mode of cell signaling in the endocrine system is endocrine signaling. However, there are also other modes, i.e., paracrine, autocrine, and neuroendocrine signaling [2]. Purely neurocrine signaling between neurons, on the other hand, belongs completely to the nervous system.


A number of glands that signal each other in sequence is usually referred to as an axis, for example the Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

Typical endocrine glands are the pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands. Features of endocrine glands are, in general, their ductless nature, their vascularity, and usually the presence of intracellular vacuoles or granules storing 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.


Other signaling can target the same cell.


Paracrine signaling is where the target cell is nearby.


Juxtacrine signals are transmitted along cell membranes via protein or lipid components integral to the membrane and are capable of affecting either the emitting cell or cells immediately adjacent.

Role in disease

Diseases of the endocrine system are common,[3] including diseases such as diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, and obesity. Endocrine disease is characterised by dysregulated hormone release (a productive Pituitary adenoma), inappropriate response to signalling (Hypothyroidism), lack or destruction of a gland (Diabetes mellitus type 1, diminished erythropoiesis in Chronic renal failure), or structural enlargement in a critical site such as the neck (Toxic multinodular goitre). Hypofunction of endocrine glands can occur as result of loss of reserve, hyposecretion, agenesis, atrophy, or active destruction. Hyperfunction can occur as 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. Tertiary endocrine disease is associated with dysfunction of the hypothalamus and its releasing hormones.

Cancer can occur in endocrine glands, such as the thyroid, and hormones have been implicated in signalling distant tissues to proliferate, for example the Estrogen receptor has been shown to be involved in certain breast cancers. Endocrine, Paracrine, and autocrine signalling have all been implicated in proliferation, one of the required steps of oncogenesis.[4]

Table of endocrine glands and secreted hormones

This is a table of the glands of the endocrine system, and their secreted hormones


Secreted hormone Abbreviation From cells Effect
Thyrotropin-releasing hormone TRH Parvocellular neurosecretory neurons Release thyroid-stimulating hormone from anterior pituitary (primarily)
Stimulate prolactin release from anterior pituitary.
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone GnRH Neuroendocine cells of the Preoptic area Release of FSH and LH from anterior pituitary.
Growth hormone-releasing hormone GHRH Neuroendocrine neurons of the Arcuate nucleus Release GH from anterior pituitary
Corticotropin-releasing hormone CRH Parvocellular neurosecretory neurons Release ACTH from anterior pituitary
Vasopressin Parvocellular neurosecretory neurons Release ACTH from anterior pituitary
Somatostatin, also growth hormone-inhibiting hormone SS or GHIH Neuroendocrince cells of the Periventricular nucleus Inhibit release of GH and TRH from anterior pituitary
Prolactin inhibiting hormone or Dopamine PIH or DA Dopamine neurons of the arcuate nucleus Inhibit release of prolactin and TRH from anterior pituitary
Prolactin-releasing hormone PRH Release prolactin from anterior pituitary

Pineal body

Secreted hormone From cells Effect
Melatonin (Primarily) Pinealocytes antioxidant and causes drowsiness

Pituitary gland (hypophysis)

Anterior pituitary lobe (adenohypophysis)

Secreted hormone Abbreviation From cells Effect
Growth hormone GH Somatotropes stimulates growth and cell reproduction

Release Insulin-like growth factor 1 from liver

Prolactin PRL Lactotropes milk production in mammary glands
sexual gratification after sexual acts
Adrenocorticotropic hormone or corticotropin ACTH Corticotropes synthesis of corticosteroids (glucocorticoids and androgens) in adrenocortical cells
Lipotropin Corticotropes lipolysis and steroidogenesis,
stimulates melanocytes to produce melanin
Thyroid-stimulating hormone or thyrotropin TSH Thyrotropes stimulates thyroid gland to secrete thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3)
Follicle-stimulating hormone FSH Gonadotropes In female: stimulates maturation of Graafian follicles in ovary.

In male: spermatogenesis, enhances production of androgen-binding protein by the Sertoli cells of the testes

Luteinizing hormone LH Gonadotropes In female: ovulation

In male: stimulates Leydig cell production of testosterone

Posterior pituitary lobe (neurohypophysis)

Secreted hormone Abbreviation From cells Effect
Oxytocin Magnocellular neurosecretory cells Contraction of cervix and vagina

Involved in orgasm, trust between people.[5] and circadian homeostasis (body temperature, activity level, wakefulness) [6]. release breast milk

Vasopressin or antidiuretic hormone AVP or ADH Magnocellular neurosecretory cells retention of water in kidneys

moderate vasoconstriction

Intermediate pituitary lobe (pars intermedia)

Secreted hormone Abbreviation From cells Effect
Melanocyte-stimulating hormone MSH Melanotroph melanogenesis by melanocytes in skin and hair.


Secreted hormone Abbreviation From cells Effect
Triiodothyronine T3 Thyroid epithelial cell potent form of thyroid hormone: increase the basal metabolic rate & sensitivity to catecholamines,

affect protein synthesis

Thyroxine or tetraiodothyronine T4 Thyroid epithelial cells less active form of thyroid hormone: increase the basal metabolic rate & sensitivity to catecholamines,

affect protein synthesis

Calcitonin Parafollicular cells Construct bone

reduce blood Ca2+


Secreted hormone Abbreviation From cells Effect
Parathyroid hormone PTH Parathyroid chief cell increase blood Ca2+: *indirectly stimulate osteoclasts

(Slightly) decrease blood phosphate:

  • (decreased reuptake in kidney but increased uptake from bones
  • activate vitamin D)


Secreted hormone Abbreviation From cells Effect
Atrial-natriuretic peptide ANP Cardiac myocytes Reduce blood pressure by:

reducing systemic vascular resistance, reducing blood water, sodium and fats

Brain natriuretic peptide BNP Cardiac myocytes (To a minor degree than ANP) reduce blood pressure by:

reducing systemic vascular resistance, reducing blood water, sodium and fats

Striated muscle

Secreted hormone From cells Effect
Thrombopoietin Myocytes stimulates megakaryocytes to produce platelets[7]


Secreted hormone From cells Effect
Calcidiol (25-hydroxyvitamin D3) Inactive form of Vitamin D3

Adipose tissue

Secreted hormone From cells Effect
Leptin (Primarily) Adipocytes decrease of appetite and increase of metabolism.
Estrogens[8] (mainly Estrone) Adipocytes


Secreted hormone Abbreviation From cells Effect
Gastrin (Primarily) G cells Secretion of gastric acid by parietal cells
Ghrelin P/D1 cells Stimulate appetite,

secretion of growth hormone from anterior pituitary gland

Neuropeptide Y NPY increased food intake and decreased physical activity
Secretin S cells Secretion of bicarbonate from liver, pancreas and duodenal Brunner's glands

Enhances effects of cholecystokinin Stops production of gastric juice

Somatostatin D cells Suppress release of gastrin, cholecystokinin (CCK), secretin, motilin, vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), gastric inhibitory polypeptide (GIP), enteroglucagon

Lowers rate of gastric emptying Reduces smooth muscle contractions and blood flow within the intestine [9]

Histamine ECL cells stimulate gastric acid secretion
Endothelin X cells Smooth muscle contraction of stomach [10]


Secreted hormone From cells Effect
Cholecystokinin I cells Release of digestive enzymes from pancreas

Release of bile from gallbladder hunger suppressant


Secreted hormone Abbreviation From cells Effect
Insulin-like growth factor (or somatomedin) (Primarily) IGF Hepatocytes insulin-like effects

regulate cell growth and development

Angiotensinogen and angiotensin Hepatocytes vasoconstriction

release of aldosterone from adrenal cortex dipsogen.

Thrombopoietin Hepatocytes stimulates megakaryocytes to produce platelets[7]


Secreted hormone From cells Effect
Insulin (Primarily) ß Islet cells Intake of glucose, glycogenesis and glycolysis in liver and muscle from blood

intake of lipids and synthesis of triglycerides in adipocytes Other anabolic effects

Glucagon (Also Primarily) a Islet cells glycogenolysis and gluconeogenesis in liver

increases blood glucose level

Somatostatin d Islet cells Inhibit release of insulin [11]

Inhibit release of glucagon[11] Suppress the exocrine secretory action of pancreas.

Pancreatic polypeptide PP cells Unknown


Secreted hormone From cells Effect
Renin (Primarily) Juxtaglomerular cells Activates the renin-angiotensin system by producing angiotensin I of angiotensinogen
Erythropoietin (EPO) Extraglomerular mesangial cells Stimulate erythrocyte production
Calcitriol (1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3) Active form of vitamin D3

Increase absorption of calcium and phosphate from gastrointestinal tract and kidneys inhibit release of PTH

Thrombopoietin stimulates megakaryocytes to produce platelets[7]

Adrenal glands

Adrenal cortex

Secreted hormone From cells Effect
Glucocorticoids (chiefly cortisol) zona fasciculata and zona reticularis cells Stimulation of gluconeogenesis

Inhibition of glucose uptake in muscle and adipose tissue Mobilization of amino acids from extrahepatic tissues Stimulation of fat breakdown in adipose tissue anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive

Mineralocorticoids (chiefly aldosterone) Zona glomerulosa cells Increase blood volume by reabsorption of sodium in kidneys (primarily)

Potassium and H+ secretion in kidney.

Androgens (including DHEA and testosterone) Zona fasciculata and Zona reticularis cells Virilization, anabolic

Adrenal medulla

Secreted hormone From cells Effect
Adrenaline (epinephrine) (Primarily) Chromaffin cells Fight-or-flight response:
Noradrenaline (norepinephrine) Chromaffin cells Fight-or-flight response:
Dopamine Chromaffin cells Increase heart rate and blood pressure
Enkephalin Chromaffin cells Regulate pain


Secreted hormone From cells Effect
Androgens (chiefly testosterone) Leydig cells Anabolic: growth of muscle mass and strength, increased bone density, growth and strength,

Virilizing: maturation of sex organs, formation of scrotum, deepening of voice, growth of beard and axillary hair.

Estradiol Sertoli cells Prevent apoptosis of germ cells[12]
Inhibin Sertoli cells Inhibit production of FSH


These originate either from the ovarian follicle or the corpus luteum.

Secreted hormone From cells Effect
Progesterone Granulosa cells, theca cells Support pregnancy[13]:



Androstenedione Theca cells Substrate for estrogen
Estrogens (mainly estradiol) Granulosa cells Structural:

Protein synthesis:

  • Increase hepatic production of binding proteins


Fluid balance:

Gastrointestinal tract:

  • Reduce bowel motility
  • Increase cholesterol in bile



  • Support hormone-sensitive breast cancers [16] (Suppression of production in the body of estrogen is a treatment for these cancers.)

Lung function:

Inhibin Granulosa cells Inhibit production of FSH from anterior pituitary

Placenta (when pregnant)

Secreted hormone Abbreviation From cells Effect
Progesterone (Primarily) Support pregnancy[13]:

Other effects on mother similar to ovarian follicle-progesterone

Estrogens (mainly Estriol) (Also Primarily) Effects on mother similar to ovarian follicle estrogen
Human chorionic gonadotropin HCG Syncytiotrophoblast promote maintenance of corpus luteum during beginning of pregnancy

Inhibit immune response, towards the human embryo.

Human placental lactogen HPL Syncytiotrophoblast increase production of insulin and IGF-1

increase insulin resistance and carbohydrate intolerance

Inhibin Fetal Trophoblasts suppress FSH

Uterus (when pregnant)

Secreted hormone Abbreviation From cells Effect
Prolactin PRL Decidual cells milk production in mammary glands
Relaxin Decidual cells Unclear in humans

See also



  1. Collier, Judith. et.al (2006). Oxford Handbook of Clinical Specialties 7th edn. Oxford. pp. 350–351. ISBN 0-19-853085-4.
  2. University of Virginia - HISTOLOGY OF THE ENDOCRINE GLANDS
  3. Kasper; et al. (2005). Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. McGraw Hill. p. 2074. ISBN 0-07-139140-1.
  4. Bhowmick NA, Chytil A, Neilson EG, Moses HL (2004). "TGF-beta signaling in fibroblasts modulates the oncogenic potential of adjacent epithelia". Science. Feb 6 303(5659): 848–51.
  5. Kosfeld M et al. (2005) Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature 435:673-676. PDF PMID 15931222
  6. Scientific American Mind, "Rhythm and Blues"; June/July 2007; Scientific American Mind; by Ulrich Kraft
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Kaushansky K. Lineage-specific hematopoietic growth factors. N Engl J Med 2006;354:2034-45. PMID 16687716.
  8. The adipose tissue as a source of vasoactive factors. Frühbeck G. (Curr Med Chem Cardiovasc Hematol Agents. 2004 Jul;2(3):197-208.)
  9. http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/endocrine/otherendo/somatostatin.html Colorado State University - Biomedical Hypertextbooks - Somatostatin
  10. Diabetes-related changes in contractile responses of stomach fundus to endothelin-1 in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats Journal of Smooth Muscle Research Vol. 41 (2005) , No. 1 35-47. Kazuki Endo1), Takayuki Matsumoto1), Tsuneo Kobayashi1), Yutaka Kasuya1) and Katsuo Kamata1)
  11. 11.0 11.1 Essentials of Human Physiology by Thomas M. Nosek. Section 5/5ch4/s5ch4_17.
  12. Pentikäinen V, Erkkilä K, Suomalainen L, Parvinen M, Dunkel L. Estradiol Acts as a Germ Cell Survival Factor in the Human Testis in vitro. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2006;85:2057-67 PMID 10843196
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/reprod/placenta/endocrine.html
  14. Essentials of Human Physiology by Thomas M. Nosek. Section 5/5ch9/s5ch9_13.
  15. Hould F, Fried G, Fazekas A, Tremblay S, Mersereau W (1988). "Progesterone receptors regulate gallbladder motility". J Surg Res. 45 (6): 505–12. PMID 3184927.
  16. http://www.breastcancer.org/tre_sys_hrt_idx.html
  17. Massaro D, Massaro GD (2004). "Estrogen regulates pulmonary alveolar formation, loss, and regeneration in mice". American Journal of Physiology. Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology. 287 (6): L1154–9. PMID 15298854 url=http://ajplung.physiology.org/cgi/content/full/287/6/L1154.

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