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pituitary gland

pituitary gland This gland, also termed the hypophysis cerebri, lies in a bony cavity, the sella turcica, so called because it was thought to resemble a Turkish saddle. It lies under the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus (whose location gives rise to its name, derived from the Greek, hypo meaning under and phyen to grow). It is connected to the hypothalamus by the pituitary stalk and in man is divided into two lobes, the anterior and the posterior, which develop in the embryo from completely different types of cell. The anterior lobe arises from below — from the same source as the mouth — and is made up of hormone-producing cells; the posterior lobe is developmentally a downward extension of the brain, and contains the endings of nerve fibres that arise from nerve cell bodies in one of two groups of cells (‘nuclei’) in the hypothalamus.

The existence of the pituitary gland was known before the time of Aristotle (384–22 bc), but it was only in the twentieth century that its true function was identified. Galen, the Greek physician and dogmatic teacher whose writing dominated Byzantine, Arabic, and medieval mdicine for a millennium, thought the pituita, one of four humours, passed from the brain to the nasal cavity. Vesalius (1514–64), a Belgian anatomist, was of a similar opinion, believing that waste material produced in the formation of the vital spirit was drained from the brain via the pituitary gland. This view was challenged in the seventeenth century and debate about its function continued through the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century. It was only at the end of the nineteenth century, when clinical disorders were recognized as being associated with pituitary tumours, that its real function as an endocrine organ was established.

The anterior pituitary

contains five different types of cell, each of which produce one particular hormone, with the exception of the ‘gonadotrophs’ which produce two: namely luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicular stimulating hormone (FSH). All the hormones are peptide or protein in nature, varying in size from 39 amino acids (ACTH) to 204 amino acids (LH and FSH). The hormones fall into two groups: the first contains the four trophic hormones (from the Greek for nourishment), which control other endocrine glands; the second contains prolactin and growth hormone, which have more widespread effects in the body.

The trophic hormones

act to stimulate secretion of hormone from the target gland and to maintain its function and, if present in high concentrations, will cause the gland to enlarge. They are:(i) thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which stimulates the secretion of the thyroid hormones;(ii) adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), which acts on the adrenal cortex to promote the release of cortisol;(iii) gonadotrophins LH and FSH, which act on the ovaries and testes. They are however named after their effects in women; FSH stimulates growth of the ovarian follicle containing the ovum or egg and LH stimulates production of oestrogen and progesterone from the ovary. The actions in the male are analogous; FSH stimulates sperm production and LH stimulates testosterone production by the testes.

Prolactin

acts chiefly to cause milk production in the breasts.

Growth hormone

has widespread effects, necessary not only for growth itself but also for metabolism throughout life.

Because the pituitary controls so many endocrine functions in the body it has been called ‘the conductor of the endocrine orchestra’, but more recent discoveries suggested that this term more properly belongs to the hypothalamus, with the pituitary being comparable to the leader of the orchestra. Since the nerves going to the anterior pituitary only supply the blood vessels there was some debate as to how the gland was controlled. It is now known that the hypothalamus produces stimulatory and inhibitory hormones, and that these reach the anterior pituitary via a network of small blood vessels or capillaries. The hormones are produced in nerve cells whose endings abut on the capillaries at the top of the pituitary stalk. This control of the pituitary by the central nervous system allows blood concentrations of the hormones to respond to a variety of external stimuli including stress. It also allows for complex patterning of release. Pituitary hormones in general are released in a pulsatile fashion, with many pulses during the day, and they can also show 24 hour (diurnal) rhythms. The gonadotrophins, linked into the human menstrual cycle, show a 28 day rhythm, while in animals which are seasonal breeders prolactin shows a seasonal rhythm. Blood concentrations of pituitary hormones are controlled not only by the hypothalamic hormones but by feedback, usually negative, exerted by target organ hormones such as cortisol or progesterone.

The posterior pituitary

Two hormones are released from the posterior lobe, oxytocin and vasopressin (syn. antidiuretic hormone). These, like the releasing hormones that reach the anterior lobe, are produced within nerve cells in the hypothalamus. But in this case the axons travel right down the pituitary stalk, and the nerve endings release the hormones directly into the bloodstream (see endocrine). The activity of the posterior pituitary hormones was established around 1900 in the UK by Schafer (a physiologist) and his colleagues working on what proved to be the actions of vasopressin, and Dale, a pharmacologist and Nobel Prize winner working on oxytocin. Vasopressin plays a role in water balance and the maintenance of blood pressure, normal circulating concentrations causing water to be retained by the kidney and higher concentrations causing blood vessels to constrict, thus raising blood pressure. As with the anterior pituitary, control via the hypothalamus means that release of posterior pituitary hormones can be regulated by a variety of nervous inputs; the main stimuli for vasopressin release are an increase in the concentration of the blood plasma and a decrease in circulating blood volume, both of which reflect a fall in total body water. Oxytocin is important for the birth of an infant and for delivery of the milk supply.

Mary L. Forsling


See endocrine.See also growth hormone; hormones; hypothalamus; oxytocin; peptides; water balance.

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Pituitary Gland

Pituitary Gland

The pituitary gland is one of the principal glands of the endocrine system. It releases at least nine hormones affecting a wide variety of body functions, including growth, reproduction, and levels of electrolytes and water in the body fluids. The pituitary sits near the center of the head, behind the nose and beneath the brain, just below the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a brain structure from which the pituitary receives chemical signals that control its action. Nerve endings from the hypothalamus stimulate the posterior portion of the pituitary to secrete oxytocin and antidiuretic hormone (ADH). Capillaries from the hypothalamus carry releasing factors and inhibiting factors to the anterior portion of the pituitary, stimulating or inhibiting release of eight other hormones (see Table 1). All the hormones of the pituitary gland are peptides, small chains of amino acids .

Hormones Released by the Pituitary Gland  
Hormone Site of Action Effects
Oxytocin uterus stimulates contraction during labor
  breast stimulates contraction to express milk
Antidiuretic hormone (ADH) kidney stimulates retention of water
Anterior Pituitary    
Corticotrophin (adrenocorticotrophic    
hormone, ACTH) adrenal cortex stimulates release of cortisol
Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) thyroid stimulates release of thyroxine
Growth hormone (GH) bone stimulates growth
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) female ovaries stimulates follicle to mature an egg, estrogen
    production
  male testes stimulates sperm production
Luteinizing hormone (LH) female ovaries stimulates ovulation, progesterone production
  male testes stimulates testosterone production
beta-Endorphin brain reduces pain

Both the hypothalamus and the pituitary are involved in complex feedback loops with other glands in the body, sending and receiving hormonal signals to maintain homeostasis. Because of its central role in so many systems, pituitary abnormalities can lead to a variety of disorders. Disorders may lead to either hyposecretion or hypersecretion . Deficient growth hormone, for instance, leads to dwarfism, while excess causes gigantism.

see also Endocrine System; Growth; Homeostasis; Hormones; Hypothalamus

Richard Robinson

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pituitary gland

pituitary gland, small oval endocrine gland that lies at the base of the brain. It is sometimes called the master gland of the body because all the other endocrine glands depend on its secretions for stimulation (see endocrine system).

Anatomy and Function

Physiologically, the pituitary is divided into two distinct lobes that arise from different embryological sources. The anterior lobe, or adenohypophysis, grows upward from the pharyngeal tissue at the roof of the mouth. An intermediate lobe also originates in the pharynx, but in humans it is greatly reduced in structure and function. The posterior lobe, or neurohypophysis, grows downward from neural tissue. It is structurally continuous with the hypothalamus of the brain, to which it remains attached by the hypophyseal, or pituitary, stalk. The hypothalamus controls almost all secretions of the pituitary. The posterior lobe is controlled by nerve fibers that originate in hypothalamic neurons and the anterior lobe by substances that are transported from the hypothalamus by tiny blood vessels.

Pituitary Hormones

The tissues in the anterior lobe consist of extensive vascular areas interspersed among glandular cells that secrete at least six different hormones. It was formerly believed that a master molecule was stimulated by various enzymes to produce these hormones, but present evidence indicates that each is individually synthesized, probably by a specific type of glandular cell. Three such types of cells exist in the anterior pituitary gland: acidophils, basophils, and chromophobes. The growth hormone, thought to be synthesized by certain acidophils, stimulates all the tissues in the body to grow by effecting protein formation.

The remaining five important hormones influence body functions by stimulating target organs. Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) controls the secretion of steroid hormones by the adrenal cortex, which affects glucose, protein, and fat metabolism; thyrotropin controls the rate of thyroxine synthesis by the thyroid gland, which is the principal regulator of body metabolic rate; prolactin, which regulates the formation of milk after the birth of an infant; and three separate gonadotropic hormones (follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, and luteotropic hormone) control the growth and reproductive activity of the gonads.

The release of each of the hormones from the anterior lobe is controlled by a specific substance secreted by nerve cells in the hypothalamus. These substances, called releasing factors, are transmitted by nerve fibers to tiny capillaries in the hypophyseal stalk. They move through blood vessels to the anterior lobe, where each releasing factor is responsible for the release of a specific pituitary hormone.

The two hormones that are produced by the posterior lobe are synthesized by nerve cells in the hypothalamus. They are transported by nerve fibers to nerve endings in the posterior lobe, where they are released. The hormones are antidiuretic hormone (ADH or vasopressin), which alters the permeability of the kidney tubules, permitting more water to be retained by the body; and oxytocin, which aids in the release of milk from mammary glands and causes uterine contractions. The only hormone that is synthesized by the intermediate lobe is the melanocyte-stimulating hormone, which appears to control skin pigmentation.

Disorders of Pituitary Hormone Secretion

Oversecretion of the pituitary hormone human growth hormone can cause gigantism if it occurs before growth of the long bones is complete, or acromegaly if it begins during adulthood. Undersecretion of human growth hormone can lead to dwarfism if experienced during childhood, and decreased endocrine function accompanied by lethargy and loss of sexual capacity in the adult.

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pituitary gland

pituitary gland (pituitary body; hypophysis) A pea-sized endocrine gland attached by a thin stalk to the hypothalamus at the base of the brain. It consists of two lobes: the anterior and the posterior. The anterior pituitary (or adenohypophysis) secretes such hormones as growth hormone, the gonadotrophins, prolactin, thyroid-stimulating hormone, and ACTH. Because these hormones regulate the growth and activity of several other endocrine glands, the anterior pituitary is often referred to as the master endocrine gland. Activity of the anterior pituitary itself is regulated by specific releasing hormones produced by the hypothalamus (see also neuroendocrine system). The posterior pituitary (or neurohypophysis) secretes the hormones oxytocin and antidiuretic hormone.

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pituitary gland

pituitary gland (pituitary body) A gland at the base of the brain that secretes a range of hormones, mostly tropins. It is the dominant gland of, and regulates, the endocrine system and also interacts with the hypothalamus in the pituitary axis. The gland comprises an anterior lobe and a posterior lobe. The anterior lobe secretes gonadotropins, thyrotropic hormone, and adrenocorticotrophic hormone; the posterior lobe secretes oxytocin and vasopressin. See also ADENOHYPOPHYSIS; NEUROHYPOPHYSIS.

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pituitary gland

pituitary gland (hypophysis) n. the master endocrine gland: a pea-sized body attached to the hypothalamus at the base of the skull. The anterior lobe of the gland (adenohypophysis) secretes thyroid-stimulating hormone, ACTH, gonadotrophins (LH and FSH), growth hormone, prolactin, lipotrophin, and melanocyte-stimulating hormone. The posterior lobe (neurohypophysis) secretes vasopressin and oxytocin.

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pituitary gland

pituitary gland Major gland of the endocrine system, located at the base of the brain. In human beings, it is about the size of a pea and connects to the hypothalamus by a stalk. It produces many hormones, some of which regulate the activity of other endocrine glands, while others control growth.

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