|Anterior pituitary gland|
Median sagittal through the hypophysis of an adult monkey. Semidiagrammatic.
|Precursor||oral mucosa (Rathke's pouch)|
|Latin||lobus anterior hypophysis|
A major organ of the endocrine system, the anterior pituitary (also called the adenohypophysis or pars anterior) is the glandular, anterior lobe that together with the posterior lobe (posterior pituitary, or the neurohypophysis) makes up the pituitary gland (hypophysis). The anterior pituitary regulates several physiological processes, including stress, growth, reproduction, and lactation. Proper functioning of the anterior pituitary and of the organs it regulates can often be ascertained via blood tests that measure hormone levels.
The pituitary gland sits in a protective bony enclosure called the sella turcica (Turkish chair/saddle). It is composed of three lobes: the anterior, intermediate, and posterior lobes. In many animals, these lobes are distinct. However, in humans, the intermediate lobe is but a few cell layers thick and indistinct; as a result, it is often considered part of the anterior pituitary. In all animals, the fleshy, glandular anterior pituitary is distinct from the neural composition of the posterior pituitary.
The anterior pituitary is composed of three regions:
The pars distalis (distal part) comprises the majority of the anterior pituitary and is where the bulk of pituitary hormone production occurs. The pars distalis contains two types of cells, including chromophobe cells and chromophil cells.The chromophils can be further divided into acidophils (alpha cells) and basophils (beta cells). These cells all together produce hormones of the anterior pituitary and release them into the blood stream.
Nota bene: The terms "basophil" and "acidophil" are used by some books, whereas others prefer not to use these terms. This is due to the possible confusion with white blood cells, where one may also find basophils and acidophils.
The anterior pituitary is derived from the ectoderm, more specifically from that of Rathke’s pouch, part of the developing hard palate in the embryo.
The pouch eventually loses its connection with the pharynx, giving rise to the anterior pituitary. The anterior wall of Rathke's pouch proliferates, filling most of the pouch to form the pars distalis and the pars tuberalis. The posterior wall of the anterior pituitary forms the pars intermedia. Its formation from the soft tissues of the upper palate contrasts with the posterior pituitary, which originates from neuroectoderm.
The anterior pituitary contains five types of endocrine cell, and they are defined by the hormones they secrete: somatotropes (GH); Lactotropes (PRL); gonadotropes (LH and FSH); corticotropes (ACTH) and thyrotropes (TSH).It also contains non-endocrine folliculostellate cells which are thought to stimulate and support the endocrine cell populations.
Hormones secreted by the anterior pituitary are trophic hormones (Greek: trophe, “nourishment”). Trophic hormones directly affect growth either as hyperplasia or hypertrophy on the tissue it is stimulating. Tropic hormones are named for their ability to act directly on target tissues or other endocrine glands to release hormones, causing numerous cascading physiological responses.
|Hormone||Other names||Symbol(s)||Structure||Secretory cells||Staining||Target||Effect|
|Adrenocorticotropic hormone||Corticotropin||ACTH||Polypeptide||Corticotrophs||Basophil||Adrenal gland||Secretion of glucocorticoid, mineralocorticoid and androgens|
|Thyroid-stimulating hormone||Thyrotropin||TSH||Glycoprotein||Thyrotrophs||Basophil||Thyroid gland||Secretion of thyroid hormones|
|Follicle-stimulating hormone||-||FSH||Glycoprotein||Gonadotrophs||Basophil||Gonads||Growth of reproductive system|
|Luteinizing hormone||Lutropin||LH, ICSH||Glycoprotein||Gonadotrophs||Basophil||Gonads||Sex hormone production|
|Growth hormone||Somatotropin||GH, STH||Polypeptide||Somatotrophs||Acidophil||Liver, adipose tissue||Promotes growth; lipid and carbohydrate metabolism|
|Prolactin||Lactotropin||PRL||Polypeptide||Lactotrophs||Acidophil||Ovaries, mammary glands, testes, prostate||Secretion of estrogens/progesterone; lactation; spermatogenesis; prostatic hyperplasia||TSH and ACTH secretion|
Hormone secretion from the anterior pituitary gland is regulated by hormones secreted by the hypothalamus. Neuroendocrine cells in the hypothalamus project axons to the median eminence, at the base of the brain. At this site, these cells can release substances into small blood vessels that travel directly to the anterior pituitary gland (the hypothalamo-hypophyseal portal vessels).
Aside from hypothalamic control of the anterior pituitary, other systems in the body have been shown to regulate the anterior pituitary’s function. GABA can either stimulate or inhibit the secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH) and growth hormone (GH) and can stimulate the secretion of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Prostaglandins are now known to inhibit adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and also to stimulate TSH, GH and LH release.GABA, through action with the hypothalamus, has been shown experimentally to influence the level of GH secretion. Clinical evidence supports the experimental findings of the excitatory and inhibitory effects GABA has on GH secretion, dependent on GABA’s site of action within the hypothalamic-pituitary unit.
The homeostatic maintenance of the anterior pituitary is crucial to our physiological well being. Increased plasma levels of TSH induce hyperthermia through a mechanism involving increased metabolism and cutaneous vasodilation. Increased levels of LH also result in hypothermia but through a decreased metabolism action. ACTH increase metabolism and induce cutaneous vasoconstriction, increased plasma levels also result in hyperthermia and prolactin decreases with decreasing temperature values. follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) also may cause hypothermia if increased beyond homeostatic levels through an increased metabolic mechanism only.
Gonadotropes, primarily luteinising hormone (LH) secreted from the anterior pituitary stimulates the ovulation cycle in female mammals, whilst in the males, LH stimulates the synthesis of androgen which drives the ongoing will to mate together with a constant production of sperm.
Main article Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis
The anterior pituitary plays a role in stress response. Corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) from the hypothalamus stimulates ACTH release in a cascading effect that ends with the production of glucocorticoids from the adrenal cortex.
Hyperpituitarism is the condition where the pituitary secretes excessive amounts of hormones. This hypersecretion often results in the formation of a pituitary adenoma (tumour), which are benign apart from a tiny fraction. There are mainly three types of anterior pituitary tumors and their associated disorders. For example, acromegaly results from excessive secretion of growth hormone (GH) often being released by a pituitary adenoma. This disorder can cause disfigurement and possibly deathand can lead to gigantism, a hormone disorder shown in “giants” such as André the Giant, where it occurs before the epiphyseal plates in bones close in puberty. The most common type of pituitary tumour is a prolactinoma which hypersecretes prolactin. A third type of pituitary adenoma secretes excess ACTH, which in turn, causes an excess of cortisol to be secreted and is the cause of Cushing's disease.
Hypopituitarism is characterized by a decreased secretion of hormones released by the anterior pituitary. For example, hypo-secretion of GH prior to puberty can be a cause of dwarfism. In addition, secondary adrenal insufficiency can be caused by hypo-secretion of ACTH which, in turn, does not signal the adrenal cortex to produce a sufficient amount of cortisol. This is a life-threatening condition. Hypopituitarism could be caused by the destruction or removal of the anterior pituitary tissue through traumatic brain injury, tumor, tuberculosis, or syphilis, among other causes. This disorder used to be referred to as Simmonds' disease but now according to the Diseases Database it is called Sheehan syndrome.If the hypopituitarism is caused by the blood loss associated with childbirth, the disorder is referred to as Sheehan syndrome.
The anterior pituitary is also known as the adenohypophysis, meaning "glandular undergrowth", from the Greek adeno- ("gland"), hypo ("under"), and physis ("growth").
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 humans, the major endocrine glands are the thyroid gland and the adrenal glands. In vertebrates, the hypothalamus is the neural control center for all endocrine systems. The study of the endocrine system and its disorders is known as endocrinology. Endocrinology is a branch of internal medicine.
In vertebrate anatomy, the pituitary gland, or hypophysis, is an endocrine gland, about the size of a pea and weighing 0.5 grams (0.018 oz) in humans. It is a protrusion off the bottom of the hypothalamus at the base of the brain. The hypophysis rests upon the hypophysial fossa of the sphenoid bone in the center of the middle cranial fossa and is surrounded by a small bony cavity covered by a dural fold. The anterior pituitary is a lobe of the gland that regulates several physiological processes. The intermediate lobe synthesizes and secretes melanocyte-stimulating hormone. The posterior pituitary is a lobe of the gland that is functionally connected to the hypothalamus by the median eminence via a small tube called the pituitary stalk.
Adrenocorticotropic hormone is a polypeptide tropic hormone produced by and secreted by the anterior pituitary gland. It is also used as a medication and diagnostic agent. ACTH is an important component of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and is often produced in response to biological stress. Its principal effects are increased production and release of cortisol by the cortex of the adrenal gland. ACTH is also related to the circadian rhythm in many organisms.
The hypothalamus is a portion of the brain that contains a number of small nuclei with a variety of functions. One of the most important functions of the hypothalamus is to link the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus is located below the thalamus and is part of the limbic system. In the terminology of neuroanatomy, it forms the ventral part of the diencephalon. All vertebrate brains contain a hypothalamus. In humans, it is the size of an almond.
The hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis is a complex set of direct influences and feedback interactions among three components: the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.
Tropic hormones are hormones that have other endocrine glands as their target. Most tropic hormones are produced and secreted by the anterior pituitary. The hypothalamus secretes tropic hormones that target the anterior pituitary, and the thyroid gland secretes thyroxine, which targets the hypothalamus and therefore can be considered a tropic hormone.
Luteinizing hormone is a hormone produced by gonadotropic cells in the anterior pituitary gland. In females, an acute rise of LH triggers ovulation and development of the corpus luteum. In males, where LH had also been called interstitial cell–stimulating hormone (ICSH), it stimulates Leydig cell production of testosterone. It acts synergistically with follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
The posterior pituitary is the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland which is part of the endocrine system. The posterior pituitary is not glandular as is the anterior pituitary. Instead, it is largely a collection of axonal projections from the hypothalamus that terminate behind the anterior pituitary, and serve as a site for the secretion of neurohypophysial hormones directly into the blood. The hypothalamic–neurohypophyseal system is composed of the hypothalamus, posterior pituitary, and these axonal projections.
The paraventricular nucleus is a nucleus in the hypothalamus. Anatomically, it is adjacent to the third ventricle and many of its neurons project to the posterior pituitary. These projecting neurons secrete oxytocin and a smaller amount of vasopressin, otherwise the nucleus also secretes corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH). CRH and TRH are secreted into the hypophyseal portal system and act on different targets neurons in the anterior pituitary. PVN is thought to mediate many diverse functions through these different hormones, including osmoregulation, appetite, and the response of the body to stress.
Corticotropes are basophilic cells in the anterior pituitary that produce pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) which undergoes cleavage to adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), β-lipotropin (β-LPH), and melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH). These cells are stimulated by corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) and make up 15–20% of the cells in the anterior pituitary. The release of ACTH from the corticotropic cells is controlled by CRH, which is formed in the cell bodies of parvocellular neurosecretory cells within the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus and passes to the corticotropes in the anterior pituitary via the hypophyseal portal system. Adrenocorticotropin hormone stimulates the adrenal cortex to release glucocorticoids and plays an important role in the stress response.
Hypopituitarism is the decreased (hypo) secretion of one or more of the eight hormones normally produced by the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. If there is decreased secretion of one specific pituitary hormone, the condition is known as selective hypopituitarism. If there is decreased secretion of most or all pituitary hormones, the term panhypopituitarism is used.
The arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus is an aggregation of neurons in the mediobasal hypothalamus, adjacent to the third ventricle and the median eminence. The arcuate nucleus includes several important and diverse populations of neurons that help mediate different neuroendocrine and physiological functions, including neuroendocrine neurons, centrally projecting neurons, and astrocytes. The populations of neurons found in the arcuate nucleus are based on the hormones they secrete or interact with and are responsible for hypothalamic function, such as regulating hormones released from the pituitary gland or secreting their own hormones. Neurons in this region are also responsible for integrating information and providing inputs to other nuclei in the hypothalamus or inputs to areas outside this region of the brain. These neurons, generated from the ventral part of the periventricular epithelium during embryonic development, locate dorsally in the hypothalamus, becoming part of the ventromedial hypothalamic region. The function of the arcuate nucleus relies on its diversity of neurons, but its central role is involved in homeostasis. The arcuate nucleus provides many physiological roles involved in feeding, metabolism, fertility, and cardiovascular regulation.
Endocrine glands are ductless glands of the endocrine system that secrete their products, hormones, directly into the blood. 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 glands are neuroendocrine organs.
Neuroendocrine cells are cells that receive neuronal input and, as a consequence of this input, release message molecules (hormones) into the blood. In this way they bring about an integration between the nervous system and the endocrine system, a process known as neuroendocrine integration. An example of a neuroendocrine cell is a cell of the adrenal medulla, which releases adrenaline to the blood. The adrenal medullary cells are controlled by the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system. These cells are modified postganglionic neurons. Autonomic nerve fibers lead directly to them from the central nervous system. The adrenal medullary hormones are kept in vesicles much in the same way neurotransmitters are kept in neuronal vesicles. Hormonal effects can last up to ten times longer than those of neurotransmitters. Sympathetic nerve fiber impulses stimulate the release of adrenal medullary hormones. In this way the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system and the medullary secretions function together.
Neuroendocrinology is the branch of biology which studies the interaction between the nervous system and the endocrine system; i.e. how the brain regulates the hormonal activity in the body. The nervous and endocrine systems often act together in a process called neuroendocrine integration, to regulate the physiological processes of the human body. Neuroendocrinology arose from the recognition that the brain, especially the hypothalamus, controls secretion of pituitary gland hormones, and has subsequently expanded to investigate numerous interconnections of the endocrine and nervous systems.
The hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal axis refers to the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and gonadal glands as if these individual endocrine glands were a single entity. Because these glands often act in concert, physiologists and endocrinologists find it convenient and descriptive to speak of them as a single system.
Non-tropic hormones are hormones that directly stimulate target cells to induce effects. This differs from the tropic hormones, which act on another endocrine gland. Non-tropic hormones are those that act directly on targeted tissues or cells, and not on other endocrine gland to stimulate release of other hormones. Many hormones act in a chain reaction. Tropic hormones usually act in the beginning of the reaction stimulating other endocrine gland to eventually release non-tropic hormones. These are the ones that act in the end of the chain reaction on other cells that are not part of other endocrine gland. The Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is a perfect example of this chain reaction. The reaction begins in the hypothalamus with a release of corticotropin-releasing hormone/factor. This stimulates the anterior pituitary and causes it to release Adrenocorticotropic hormone to the adrenal glands. Lastly, cortisol (non-tropic) is secreted from the adrenal glands and goes into the bloodstream where it can have more widespread effects on organs and tissues. Since cortisol is what finally reaches other tissues in the body, it is a non-tropic hormone. CRH and ACTH are tropic hormones because they act on the anterior pituitary gland and adrenal glands, respectively, both of which are endocrine glands. Non-tropic hormones are thus often the last piece of a larger process and chain of hormone secretion. Both tropic and non-tropic hormones are necessary for proper endocrine function. For example, if ACTH is inhibited, cortisol can no longer be released because the chain reaction has been interrupted. Some examples of non-tropic hormones are:
Hypothalamic–pituitary hormones are hormones that are produced by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Although the organs in which they are produced are relatively small, the effects of these hormones cascade throughout the body. They can be classified as a hypothalamic–pituitary axis of which the adrenal (HPA), gonadal (HPG), thyroid (HPT), somatotropic (HPS), and prolactin (HPP) axes are branches.
Hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (HH), is due to problems with either the hypothalamus or pituitary gland affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Hypothalamic disorders result from a deficiency in the release of gonadotropic releasing hormone (GnRH), while pituitary gland disorders are due to a deficiency in the release of gonadotropins from the anterior pituitary. GnRH is the central regulator in reproductive function and sexual development via the HPG axis. GnRH is released by hypothalamic neuroendocrine cells into the hypophyseal portal system acting on gonadotrophs in the anterior pituitary. The release of gonadotropins, LH and FSH, act on the gonads for the development and maintenance of proper adult reproductive physiology. LH acts on Leydig cells in the male testes and theca cells in the female. FSH acts on Sertoli cells in the male and follicular cells in the female. Combined this causes the secretion of gonadal sex steroids and the initiation of folliculogenesis and spermatogenesis. The production of sex steroids forms a negative feedback loop acting on both the anterior pituitary and hypothalamus causing a pulsatile secretion of GnRH. GnRH neurons lack sex steroid receptors and mediators such as kisspeptin stimulate GnRH neurons for pulsatile secretion of GnRH.
Pulsatile secretion is a biochemical phenomenon observed in a wide variety of cell types, in which chemical products are secreted in a regular pattern. The most common cellular products observed to be released in this manner are intercellular signaling molecules such as hormones or neurotransmitters. The most common examples of hormones that are secreted pulsatilely include insulin, thyrotropin, TRH, gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) and growth hormone (GH). In the nervous system, pulsatility is observed in oscillatory activity from pacemakers and central pattern generators. Pulsatile activity is critical to the function of many hormones in order to maintain the delicate homeostatic balance necessary for essential life processes, such as development and reproduction. Pulsatile secretion can be critical to hormone function, as evidenced by the case of GnRH agonists, which cause functional inhibition of the receptor for GnRH due to profound downregulation in response to constant stimulation. Pulsatility may function to sensitize target tissues to the hormone of interest and upregulate receptors, leading to improved responses. This heightened response may have served to improve the animal's fitness in its environment and promote its evolutionary retention.