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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the role of different glands in the endocrine system
  • Explain how the different glands work together to maintain homeostasis

Both the endocrine and nervous systems use chemical signals to communicate and regulate the body's physiology. The endocrine system releases hormones that act on target cells to regulate development, growth, energy metabolism, reproduction, and many behaviors. The nervous system releases neurotransmitters or neurohormones that regulate neurons, muscle cells, and endocrine cells. Because the neurons can regulate the release of hormones, the nervous and endocrine systems work in a coordinated manner to regulate the body's physiology.

Hypothalamic-pituitary axis

The hypothalamus    in vertebrates integrates the endocrine and nervous systems. The hypothalamus is an endocrine organ located in the diencephalon of the brain. It receives input from the body and other brain areas and initiates endocrine responses to environmental changes. The hypothalamus acts as an endocrine organ, synthesizing hormones and transporting them along axons to the posterior pituitary gland. It synthesizes and secretes regulatory hormones that control the endocrine cells in the anterior pituitary gland. The hypothalamus contains autonomic centers that control endocrine cells in the adrenal medulla via neuronal control.

The pituitary gland    , sometimes called the hypophysis or “master gland” is located at the base of the brain in the sella turcica, a groove of the sphenoid bone of the skull, illustrated in [link] . It is attached to the hypothalamus via a stalk called the pituitary stalk    (or infundibulum). The anterior portion of the pituitary gland is regulated by releasing or release-inhibiting hormones produced by the hypothalamus, and the posterior pituitary receives signals via neurosecretory cells to release hormones produced by the hypothalamus. The pituitary has two distinct regions—the anterior pituitary and the posterior pituitary—which between them secrete nine different peptide or protein hormones. The posterior lobe of the pituitary gland contains axons of the hypothalamic neurons.

The pituitary gland sits at the base of the brain, just above the brain stem. It is lobe-shaped and hangs down from the hypothalamus, to which it is connected to via a narrow stalk. The anterior part of the pituitary is toward the front, and the posterior end is toward the back.
The pituitary gland is located at (a) the base of the brain and (b) connected to the hypothalamus by the pituitary stalk. (credit a: modification of work by NCI; credit b: modification of work by Gray’s Anatomy)

Anterior pituitary

The anterior pituitary    gland, or adenohypophysis, is surrounded by a capillary network that extends from the hypothalamus, down along the infundibulum, and to the anterior pituitary. This capillary network is a part of the hypophyseal portal system    that carries substances from the hypothalamus to the anterior pituitary and hormones from the anterior pituitary into the circulatory system. A portal system carries blood from one capillary network to another; therefore, the hypophyseal portal system allows hormones produced by the hypothalamus to be carried directly to the anterior pituitary without first entering the circulatory system.

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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