The endocrine system is a system of small organs that involve the release of extracellular signaling molecules known as hormones. The endocrine system is instrumental in regulating metabolism, growth, development and puberty, and tissue function and also plays a part in determining mood. The field of study that deals with disorders of endocrine glands is endocrinology, a branch of the wider field of internal medicine.
Major endocrine glands. (Male on the left, female on the right.) 1. Pineal gland 2. Pituitary gland 3. Thyroid gland 4. Thymus 5. Adrenal gland 6. Pancreas 7. Ovary 8. Testes
The endocrine system is an information signal system much like the nervous system. However, the nervous system uses nerves to conduct information, whereas the endocrine system mainly uses blood vessels as information channels. Glands located in many regions of the body release into the bloodstream specific chemical messengers called hormones. Hormones regulate the many and varied functions of an organism, e.g., mood, growth and development, tissue function, and metabolism, as well as sending messages and acting on them.
Types of signaling
The typical mode of cell signaling in the endocrine system is endocrine signaling. However, there are also other modes, i.e., paracrine, autocrine, and neuroendocrine signaling. Purely neurocrine signaling between neurons, on the other hand, belongs completely to the nervous system.
A number of glands that signal each other in sequence is usually referred to as an axis, for example, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Typical endocrine glands are the pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands. Features of endocrine glands are, in general, their ductless nature, their vascularity, and usually the presence of intracellular vacuoles or granules storing their hormones. In contrast, exocrine glands, such as salivary glands, sweat glands, and glands within the gastrointestinal tract, tend to be much less vascular and have ducts or a hollow lumen.
Other signaling can target the same cell.
Paracrine signaling is where the target cell is nearby.
Juxtacrine signals are transmitted along cell membranes via protein or lipid components integral to the membrane and are capable of affecting either the emitting cell or cells immediately adjacent.
Role in disease
Diseases of the endocrine system are common, including conditions such as diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, and obesity. Endocrine disease is characterized by dysregulated hormone release (a productive pituitary adenoma), inappropriate response to signaling (hypothyroidism), lack or destruction of a gland (diabetes mellitus type 1, diminished erythropoiesis in chronic renal failure), or structural enlargement in a critical site such as the neck (toxic multinodular goitre). Hypofunction of endocrine glands can occur as a result of loss of reserve, hyposecretion, agenesis, atrophy, or active destruction. Hyperfunction can occur as a result of hypersecretion, loss of suppression, hyperplastic or neoplastic change, or hyperstimulation.
Endocrinopathies are classified as primary, secondary, or tertiary. Primary endocrine disease inhibits the action of downstream glands.