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Medicine LibreTexts

17: The Endocrine System

In order to survive, animals must constantly adapt to changes in the environment. The nervous and endocrine systems both work together to bring about this adaptation. In general the nervous system responds rapidly to short-term changes by sending electrical impulses along nerves and the endocrine system brings about longer-term adaptations by sending out chemical messengers called hormones into the blood stream.

  • 17.0: Prelude to the Endocrine System
    You may never have thought of it this way, but when you send a text message to two friends to meet you at the dining hall at six, you’re sending digital signals that (you hope) will affect their behavior—even though they are some distance away. Similarly, certain cells send chemical signals to other cells in the body that influence their behavior. This long-distance intercellular communication, coordination, and control is critical for homeostasis, and it is the function of the endocrine system.
  • 17.1: An Overview of the Endocrine System
    Communication is a process in which a sender transmits signals to one or more receivers to control and coordinate actions. In the human body, two major organ systems participate in relatively “long distance” communication: the nervous system and the endocrine system. Together, these two systems are primarily responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body.
  • 17.2: Hormones
    Although a given hormone may travel throughout the body in the bloodstream, it will affect the activity only of its target cells; that is, cells with receptors for that particular hormone. Once the hormone binds to the receptor, a chain of events is initiated that leads to the target cell’s response. Hormones play a critical role in the regulation of physiological processes because of the target cell responses they regulate.
  • 17.3: The Pituitary Gland and Hypothalamus
    The hypothalamus–pituitary complex can be thought of as the “command center” of the endocrine system. This complex secretes several hormones that directly produce responses in target tissues, as well as hormones that regulate the synthesis and secretion of hormones of other glands. In addition, the hypothalamus–pituitary complex coordinates the messages of the endocrine and nervous systems.
  • 17.4: The Thyroid Gland
    A butterfly-shaped organ, the thyroid gland is located anterior to the trachea, just inferior to the larynx. The medial region, called the isthmus, is flanked by wing-shaped left and right lobes. Each of the thyroid lobes are embedded with parathyroid glands, primarily on their posterior surfaces. The tissue of the thyroid gland is composed mostly of thyroid follicles. The follicles are made up of a central cavity filled with a sticky fluid called colloid.
  • 17.5: The Parathyroid Glands
    The parathyroid glands are tiny, round structures usually found embedded in the posterior surface of the thyroid gland. A thick connective tissue capsule separates the glands from the thyroid tissue. Most people have four parathyroid glands, but occasionally there are more in tissues of the neck or chest. The function of one type of parathyroid cells, the oxyphil cells, is not clear. The primary functional cells of the parathyroid glands are the chief cells.
  • 17.6: The Adrenal Glands
    The adrenal glands are wedges of glandular and neuroendocrine tissue adhering to the top of the kidneys by a fibrous capsule. The adrenal glands have a rich blood supply and experience one of the highest rates of blood flow in the body. They are served by several arteries branching off the aorta, including the suprarenal and renal arteries. Blood flows to each adrenal gland at the adrenal cortex and then drains into the adrenal medulla.
  • 17.7: The Pineal Gland
    Recall that the hypothalamus, part of the diencephalon of the brain, sits inferior and somewhat anterior to the thalamus. Inferior but somewhat posterior to the thalamus is the pineal gland, a tiny endocrine gland whose functions are not entirely clear. The pinealocyte cells that make up the pineal gland are known to produce and secrete the amine hormone melatonin, which is derived from serotonin.
  • 17.8: Gonadal and Placental Hormones
    This section briefly discusses the hormonal role of the gonads—the male testes and female ovaries—which produce the sex cells (sperm and ova) and secrete the gonadal hormones. The roles of the gonadotropins released from the anterior pituitary (FSH and LH) were discussed earlier.
  • 17.9: The Endocrine Pancreas
    The pancreas is a long, slender organ, most of which is located posterior to the bottom half of the stomach. Although it is primarily an exocrine gland, secreting a variety of digestive enzymes, the pancreas has an endocrine function. Its pancreatic islets—clusters of cells formerly known as the islets of Langerhans—secrete the hormones glucagon, insulin, somatostatin, and pancreatic polypeptide.
  • 17.10: Organs with Secondary Endocrine Functions
    In your study of anatomy and physiology, you have already encountered a few of the many organs of the body that have secondary endocrine functions. Here, you will learn about the hormone-producing activities of the heart, gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, skeleton, adipose tissue, skin, and thymus.
  • 17.11: Development and Aging of the Endocrine System
    The endocrine system arises from all three embryonic germ layers. The endocrine glands that produce the steroid hormones, such as the gonads and adrenal cortex, arise from the mesoderm. In contrast, endocrine glands that arise from the endoderm and ectoderm produce the amine, peptide, and protein hormones. The pituitary gland arises from two distinct areas of the ectoderm: the anterior pituitary gland arises from the oral ectoderm, whereas the posterior pituitary gland arises from the neural ect