Endocrine Glands


A pair of testis is present in the scrotal sac (outside abdomen) of male individuals. Testis performs dual functions as a primary sex organ as well as an endocrine gland. Testis is composed of seminiferous tubules and stromal or interstitial tissue. The Leydig cells or interstitial cells, which are present in the intertubular spaces produce a group of hormones called androgens mainly testosterone. Androgens regulate the development, maturation and functions of the male accessory sex organs like epididymis, vas deferens, seminal vesicles, prostate gland, urethra etc. These hormones stimulate muscular growth, growth of facial and axillary hair, aggressiveness, low pitch of voice etc. Androgens play a major stimulatory role in the process of spermatogenesis (formation of spermatozoa). Androgens act on the central neural system and influence the male sexual behaviour (libido). These hormones produce anabolic (synthetic) effects on protein and carbohydrate metabolism.


Females have a pair of ovaries located in the abdomen. Ovary is the primary female sex organ which produces one ovum during each menstrual cycle. In addition, ovary also produces two groups of steroid hormones called estrogen and progesterone. Ovary is composed of ovarian follicles and stromal tissues. The estrogen is synthesised and secreted mainly by the growing ovarian follicles. After ovulation, the ruptured follicle is converted to a structure called corpus luteum, which secretes mainly progesterone.

Estrogens produce wide ranging actions such as stimulation of growth and activities of female secondary sex organs, development of growing ovarian follicles, appearance of female secondary sex characters (e.g., high pitch of voice, etc.), mammary gland development. Estrogens also regulate female sexual behaviour.

Progesterone supports pregnancy. Progesterone also acts on the mammary glands and stimulates the formation of alveoli (sac-like structures which store milk) and milk secretion.


  • Hormones are also secreted by some tissues which are not endocrine glands. For example, the atrial wall of our heart secretes a very important peptide hormone called atrial natriuretic factor (ANF), which decreases blood pressure. When blood pressure is increased, ANF is secreted which causes dilation of the blood vessels. This reduces the blood pressure.
  • The juxtaglomerular cells of kidney produce a peptide hormone called erythropoietin which stimulates erythropoiesis (formation of RBC).
  • Endocrine cells present in different parts of the gastro-intestinal tract secrete four major peptide hormones, namely gastrin, secretin, cholecystokinin (CCK) and gastric inhibitory peptide (GIP).
  • Gastrin acts on the gastric glands and stimulates the secretion of hydrochloric acid and pepsinogen.
  • Secretin acts on the exocrine pancreas and stimulates secretion of water and bicarbonate ions.
  • Cholecystokinin or CCK acts on both pancreas and gall bladder and stimulates the secretion of pancreatic enzymes and bile juice, respectively.
  • Gastric Inhibitory Peptide or GIP inhibits gastric secretion and motility.
  • Several other non-endocrine tissues secrete hormones called growth factors. These factors are essential for the normal growth of tissues and their repairing/regeneration.


  • Hormones produce their effects on target tissues by binding to specific proteins called hormone receptors located in the target tissues only.
  • Hormone receptors present on the cell membrane of the target cells are called membrane-bound receptors and the receptors present inside the target cell are called intracellular receptors, mostly nuclear receptors (present in the nucleus).
  • Binding of a hormone to its receptor leads to the formation of a hormone-receptor complex. Each receptor is specific to one hormone only and hence receptors are specific.
  • Hormone-Receptor complex formation leads to certain biochemical changes in the target tissue. Target tissue metabolism and hence physiological functions are regulated by hormones.

On the basis of their chemical nature, hormones can be divided into groups:

  1. Peptide, polypeptide, protein hormones (e.g., insulin, glucagon, pituitary hormones, hypothalamic hormones, etc.)
  2. Steroids (e.g., cortisol, testosterone, estradiol and progesterone)
  3. Iodothyronines (thyroid hormones)
  4. Amino-acid derivatives (e.g., epinephrine).

Hormones which interact with membrane-bound receptors normally do not enter the target cell, but generate second messengers (e.g., cyclic AMP, IP3, Ca2+ etc) which in turn regulate cellular metabolism. Hormones which interact with intracellular receptors (e.g., steroid hormones, iodothyronines, etc.) mostly regulate gene expression or chromosome function by the interaction of hormone-receptor complex with the genome. Cumulative biochemical actions result in physiological and developmental effects.

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