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Endocrine System

Professor Meng
Endocrine system is a mediated system, mediating the
growth, development, metabolism, reproduction and
behavior of human body and to maintain the stability of
the inner environment through secreting hormones.
Hormones are molecules secreted by endocrine cells
and function as chemical signals. They could be
classified as nitrogenous hormones and steroid
Endocrine system consists of endocrine glands,
endocrine structures and endocrine cells.
Endocrine glands include thyroid gland, parathyroid
glands, adrenal glands, hypophysis (pituitary gland)
and pineal body.
What differences between Endocrine glands and exocrine glands
are there?
Endocrine glands differ from exocrine glands in that
they don’t possess ducts, and their secretions(hormones)
are usually released into interstitial tissue, and then
picked up by capillaries.
Endocrine structures
Islet of pancreas and corpus luteum in ovary.
Endocrine cells
There are some endocrine cells distributed in the
epithelium lining the digestive tract and respiratory
tract, in placenta, in heart and in kidney. These
endocrine cells form diffuse neuroendocrine system.
General structure of endocrine glands
Parenchyma organs
Capsule: CT
Parenchyma: Endocrine cells arrange into nests,
cords, clusters or follicles.
Interstitial substance: CT, rich in capillaries.

What special function does the capillary in endocrine glands?
The hormones go into the capillaries which distribute
them throughout the body. Most of hormones act at a
distance from the site of their secretion.
Some hormones act at a short distance by diffusing
through the extracellular matrix. This is called
Endocrine cells secrete hormones act on themselves .
Target tissues, target organs or target cells
The tissues, organs and cells on which the hormones
act are called target tissues, target organs or target
cells. The target cells have receptors that specifically
recognize and respond to the hormones.
The receptors of nitrogenous hormones are mainly
on the cell membrane of target cells.
The receptors of steroid hormones are mainly in the
cytoplasm of the target cells.
Types of endocrine cells
The endocrine cells can be divided in to two types
according to the hormones secreted by the cells:
nitrogenous hormone secreting cells and steroid
hormone secreting cells.
The character ultrastructures of nitrogenous
hormone secreting cells are that there are RER,
Golgi complex and secretory granules in their
The character ultra-
structures of steroid
hormone secreting cells
are that there are SER,
mitochondria with
tubular-vesicular cristae
and lipid droplet in their
Hypophysis, or pituitary gland, is an ovoid,
flattened organ, locating in pituitary fossa of
sphenoid bone. It weighs about 0.5g . Its normal
dimensions in humans are about 10×13×6
Hypophysis is a
parenchyma organ.
There is a capsule on its
surface which is formed by
connective tissue.
The parenchyma of hypophysis is actually consists of
two parts: adenohypophysis and neurohypophysis.
Adenohypophysis comes from Rathke’s pouch
which develpos from oral ectoderm.

Neurohypophysis comes
from nerve tissue of floor
of the diencephalon.
the pars distalis
the par tuberalis
the pars intermedia
infundibular stalk
the pars nervosa
Adenohypophysis The pars distalis
There are three cell types
in the pars distalis:
acidophils, basophils and
chromophobes. The cells
form nests or cords, and
there are many sinusoids
among the cell nests. All
cells possess
ultrastructures of the
nitrogenous hormone
secreting cells.
LM: round or ovoid, eosinophilic granules
Function of acidophils
There are two subtypes of acidophils according to the
hormones they produce : somatotropic cells and
mammotropic cells.

Somatotropic cells secrete growth hormone(GH) or
somatotropic hormone(STH) which promotes the metabolism
of body and the growth of bone.

Mammotropic cells secrete prolactin which promotes the
growth and secreting of mammary glands.
LM: large, ovoid or polygonal, basophilic granules
Function of basophils
There are three subtypes of basophils according to
the hormones they produce : gonadotropic cells,
thyrotropic cells and corticotropic cells.
Gonadotropic cells secrete ganodotropins which
include follicle stimulating hormone(FSH) and
luteinizing hormone(LH)
In female: promotes the development of ovarian follicles and
secreting of estrogen by ovarian follicles in ovary .
In male: promotes spermatogenesis in testis.
In female: promotes ovulation and formation of corpus
luteum, and secreting of progesterone and estrogen by corpus
In male: regulates the secretion of androgen by Leydig cells
in testis.
Thyrotropic cells secrete thyroid stimulating
hormone(TSH) which stimulates thyroid hormone
synthesis, storage and liberation.
Corticotropic cells secrete adrenocorticotropic
hormone(ACTH) and α-Melanocyte-stimulating
ACTH stimulates the secretion of adrenal cortex
α-MSH stimulates melanocytes to secrete melanin which
darkens skin.
small, pale, less
no clear boundary

i. degranulated cells
ii. under-development cells
The par tuberalis
Most of the cells of pars tuberalis are basophils , and
are arranged in cords alongside the blood vessels
and secrete ganodotropins.
The pars intermedia

The basophils form
cords and folicles.

Basophils secrete α-
Blood supple of
Hypophyseal portal system
Superior hypophyseal
arteries→primary capillary
plexus(infundibular stalk)
→hypophyseal portal
veins→secondary capillary
plexus(the pars distalis)
→vein sinusoids(small vein)
Relationship between adenohypophysis and

The hypothalamus contains many nervous nuclei
composed of neuroendocrine cells and are closely
related to the adenohypophysis in function through
hypophyseal portal system.
There are some neuroendocrine cells in
hypothalamus. The body of these cells get gather to
form nucleus.
There is a arcuate nucleus in hypothalamus. The
neuroendocrine cells in arcuate nucleus secrete
releasing hormones(RH) and releasing inhibition
hormones(RIH). The axons of these neurons end in
infundibular stalk and release hormones into primary
capillaries. Through hypophyseal portal system the
RH and RIH control the secretion of cells in pars
We have known there are
Growth hormone releasing hormone(GRH)
Prolactin releasing hormone(PRH)
Gonadotropin releasing hormone(GnRH)
Thyrotropin releasing hormone(TRH)
Corticotropin releasing hormone(CRH)
Melanocyte stimulating hormone releasing hormone
Prolactin releasing inhibition hormone(PIH)
Melanocyte stimulating hormone releasing inhibition
Formed by unmyelinated nerve fibers , pituicytes,
Herring bodies and capillaries( sinusoids).

What forms the
nerve fibers?
Unmyelinated nerve fibers are axons of hypothalamus
neuroendocrine cells.
Pituicytes special glial cells
irregular with processes, cytoplasm contain
pigment granules
Function: support and nurish nerve fibers.
Herring bodies
acidophilic, irregular structure
secreting granules accumulate
in axon .
Function of neurohypophysis
Releases antidiuretic hormone (ADH) and oxytocin.
increases reabsorption of water in renal tubule and
causing the constriction of arterioles to increase blood
Stimulates contraction of smooth muscle of the uterine
wall during copulation and childbirth, and promotes
secreting of mammary gland.
The relationship between neurohypophysis
and hypothalamus

The hypothalamus are closely related to the
neurohypophysis in structure and in function.
There are supraoptic nucleus and paraventricular
nucleus in hypothalamus too.
The axons of neuroendocrine cells in supraoptic nucleus
and paraventricular nucleus form the neurohypophysis.
The neuroendocrine cells in supraoptic nucleus and
paraventricular nucleus synthesize ADH and oxytocin.
Then ADH and oxytocin are transported to
neurohypophysis along the axons and released in the
pars nervosa.
Adrenal glands

Paired organs that
situate on the upper
poles of kidneys.
Capsule: CT
Cortex: peripheral layer, yellow in fresh section
derived from mesoderm.
Medulla: central layer, reddish-brown in fresh section,
derived from neuroectoderm.
Adrenal cortex

Constitutes 80 ~ 90% of
total volume.
Can be subdivided into
three zones:
zona glomerulosa,
zona fasciculata,
zona reticularis
Zona glomerulosa constitutes 5 ~ 10% of cortex volume

small, low columnar
or polygonal cells
arranged into nest or
deep stained
EM: ultrastructures of steroid-hormone secreting cells

Function of zona glomerulosa
Secreting mineralocorticoid
Stimulating reabsorption of sodium and releasing of
Zona fasciculata constitutes 78% of cortex volume

large, polygonal or
columnar cells
arranged into cords
light stained
ultrastructures of
cells: more lipid
Function of zona fasciculate
Secreting glucocorticoid
cortisol or corticosterone
promote protein and fat transfer into glucose
impair immune reaction
Zona reticularis: constitutes 7% of cortex volume
LM: small polygonal cells, acidophilic cytoplasm,
arranged into cords which form networks.
ultrastructures of steroid-secreting cells
less lipid droplet and more lipofuscin pigment

Function of zona reticularis
Secreting androgen and small amount of estrogen.
Adrenal medulla
LM: Medullary cells are polyhedral, forming cords or

central vein
There are brownish cytoplasm granules in the
medullary cells when they fixed by bichromate-
containing fixative. So medullary cells are also called
chromaffin cells.

Besides medullary
cells there are some
EM: The medullary cells possess ultrastructures of the
nitrogenous hormone secreting cells.
The granules of medullary cells contain epinephrine
or norepinephrine.
Function of medullary cells:
Secreting epinephrine and norepinephrine.
neuropeptide Y, enkephalin
Function of epinephrine
i. increase the heart rate
ii. dilate blood vessels
Function of norepinephrine
i. increase blood pressure
ii. increase the flow speed of blood
The blood Supply of
adrenal glands
Thyroid gland

Largest endocrine gland
Weight 15 ~ 40g
Two-lobes, connect to
each other by isthmus
General structure:
Capsule : connective tissue
is separated into lobules
by interstitial substances.
thyroid follicles
parafollicular cells
interstitial substances.
Thyroid follicle: spherical in shape
wall: follicular epithelial cells
cavity: colloid which is eosinophilic, homogeneous

Colloid is
Follicular epithelial cells
Structure of follicular epithelial cells
LM: usually simple cuboidal epithelium
inactive flattened
more active columnar
spherical nucleus
EM: ultrastructures of nitrogenous-hormone secreting cells
RER, Golgi complex, secretory granules
microvilli , lysosome, phagosomes.
Function of follicular epithelial cells

Secrete thyroid hormones: thyroxine(T4)
Processes of synthesis and secretion of thyroid hormones

i. Synthesis of thyroglobulin
ii. Iodination of thyroglobulin
ⅲ. Storage of iodinated
thyroglobulin as
colloid in follicular cavity.
ⅳ. Engulfing of iodinated
thyroglobulin, forming
phagosomes .
ⅴ. Digestion of iodinated
iodinated thyroglobulin
into T3 and T4
ⅵ. Release of T3 and T4
Function of thyroid hormones
increase the basal metabolism rate
promote the cell growth
raise body temperature
increase heart rate
play a role in foetal and neonatal development of CNS
A diet low in iodine hinders the synthesis of thyroid
hormones, causing hypothyroidism. Thyroid
hypertrophy as a result of increased thyrotropin
secretion causes the disorder known as iodine
deficiency goiter, which occurs endemically in some
regions of the world.

Mechanism of feedback

Adult hypothyroidism
causes myxedema.

Children hypothyroidism
from birth causes
cretinism characterized
by arrested physical and
mental development.
Parafollicular cells
distribute between follicular cells and in interstitial
Structure of parafollicular cells
LM: larger ovoid or polygonal, pale-stained
ultrastructures of nitrogenous hormone secreting cells
Function of parafollicular cells
Secreting calcitonin
Action of calcitonin
Promoting activity of osteoblast and suppressing the
absorption of calcium in gastrointestinal tract and renal
tubule. Calcitonin thus lowers blood calcium
concentration and increases osteogenesis.
Parathyroid Glands
The parathyroid
glands are 4 small
glands. They are
located behind the
thyroid gland, one at
each end of the upper
and lower poles,
usually in the capsule
that covers the lobes
of the thyroid.
Sometimes they are
embedded in the
thyroid gland.
Each parathyroid gland is
contained within a
connective tissue capsule.
These capsules send septa
into the gland.
The endocrine cells of the
parathyroid gland are
arranged in cords. There
are 2 types of cells: the
chief cells and the oxyphil
The chief cells
The chief cells are small
polygonal cells with a slight
acidophilic cytoplasm. A
round nucleus locates in the
central of the cell.

Ultrastructures of nitrogenous
hormone secreting cells
RER, Golgi complex,
secretory granules
Function of chief cells
Secreting parathyroid hormone
Action of parathyroid hormone
Increasing the number and activity of osteoclasts and
thus promotes the absorption of the calcified bone
matrix and release of calcium into the blood. Indirectly
increasing the absorption of calcium from the
gastrointestinal tract by stimulating the synthesis of
vitamin D, which is necessary for this absorption.
The effect of parathyroid hormone is opposite to that of
What cells can secrete calcitonin?
In addition to increasing the concentration of calcium,
parathyroid hormone reduces the concentration of
phosphate in the blood.
The oxyphil cells
The oxyphil cells
constitute a smaller
population. They are
larger polygonal cells, and
their cytoplasm contains
many acidophilic
mitochondria with
abundant cristae. The
function of the oxyphil
cells is not known.
Pineal Gland
The pineal gland is also known as the epiphysis cerebri,
or pineal body. It is found in the posterior extremity of
the third ventricle.
The pineal gland is covered by piamater. Connective
tissue septa (containing blood vessels and unmyelinated
nerve fibers) originate in the piamater and penetrate the
pineal tissue. Along with the capillaries, they surround
the cellular cords and follicles, forming irregular
The pineal gland consists of several types of cells,
principally pinealocytes and astrocytes.
Pinealocytes have long and tortuous branches and have a
slightly basophilic cytoplasm with large irregular or
lobate nuclei. These cells produce melatonin and several
other peptides .
Melatonin can regulate circadian and rhythmic changes
in the secretory activities of the gonads and other organs.
Diffuse neuroendocrine system(DNES)
Scattered single endocrine cells
APUD cells (amine precursor uptake and decarboxylation cells)
can synthesize and secrete amine and peptide

Cells of hypothalamus and hypophysis
Endocrine cells of digestive tract, respiratory system,
pancreas and so on
Parafollicular cell of thyroid gland and medullary cell of
adrenal gland
1 . How many kinds of hormones are secreted by the thyroid
gland and what hormones are they? What functions do these
hormones have?
2 . How many types of cells is the adenohypophysis made up
of and what cells are they? What hormones do these cells secrete
3. Describe the structure and function of adrenal glands.
4.What relationship is there between the hypothalamus and the
neurohypophysis? What cells secrete the hormones released by
the neurohypophysis?
5.What Relationship is there between adenohypophysis and