AskDefine | Define hormones

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  1. Plural of hormone

Extensive Definition

A hormones (from Greek ὁρμή - "impetus") are chemicals released by cells that affect cells in other parts of the body. Only a small amount of hormone is required to alter cell metabolism.It is also chemical messenger that transports a signal from one cell to another. All multicellular organisms produce hormones; plant hormones are also called phytohormones. Hormones in animals are often transported in the blood. Cells respond to a hormone when they express a specific receptor for that hormone. The hormone binds to the receptor protein, resulting in the activation of a signal transduction mechanism that ultimately leads to cell type-specific responses.
Endocrine hormone molecules are secreted (released) directly into the bloodstream, while exocrine hormones (or ectohormones) are secreted directly into a duct, and from the duct they either flow into the bloodstream or they flow from cell to cell by diffusion in a process known as paracrine signalling.

Hierarchical nature of hormonal control

Hormonal regulation of some physiological activities involves a hierarchy of cell types acting on each other either to stimulate or to modulate the release and action of a particular hormone. The secretion of hormones from successive levels of endocrine cells is stimulated by chemical signals originating from cells higher up the hierarchical system. The master coordinator of hormonal activity in mammals is the hypothalamus, which acts on input that it receives from the central nervous system.
Other hormone secretion occurs in response to local conditions, such as the rate of secretion of parathyroid hormone by the parathyroid cells in response to fluctuations of ionized calcium levels in extracellular fluid.

Hormone signaling

Hormonal signalling across this hierarchy involves the following:
  1. Biosynthesis of a particular hormone in a particular tissue
  2. Storage and secretion of the hormone
  3. Transport of the hormone to the target cell(s)
  4. Recognition of the hormone by an associated cell membrane or intracellular receptor protein.
  5. Relay and amplification of the received hormonal signal via a signal transduction process: This then leads to a cellular response. The reaction of the target cells may then be recognized by the original hormone-producing cells, leading to a down-regulation in hormone production. This is an example of a homeostatic negative feedback loop.
  6. Degradation of the hormone.
As can be inferred from the hierarchical diagram, hormone biosynthetic cells are typically of a specialized cell type, residing within a particular endocrine gland (e.g., the thyroid gland, the ovaries, or the testes). Hormones may exit their cell of origin via exocytosis or another means of membrane transport. However, the hierarchical model is an oversimplification of the hormonal signaling process. Cellular recipients of a particular hormonal signal may be one of several cell types that reside within a number of different tissues, as is the case for insulin, which triggers a diverse range of systemic physiological effects. Different tissue types may also respond differently to the same hormonal signal. Because of this, hormonal signaling is elaborate and hard to dissect.

Interactions with receptors

Most hormones initiate a cellular response by initially combining with either a specific intracellular or cell membrane associated receptor protein. A cell may have several different receptors that recognize the same hormone and activate different signal transduction pathways, or alternatively different hormones and their receptors may invoke the same biochemical pathway. For many hormones, including most protein hormones, the receptor is membrane associated and embedded in the plasma membrane at the surface of the cell. The interaction of hormone and receptor typically triggers a cascade of secondary effects within the cytoplasm of the cell, often involving phosphorylation or dephosphorylation of various other cytoplasmic proteins, changes in ion channel permeability, or increased concentrations of intracellular molecules that may act as secondary messengers (e.g. cyclic AMP). Some protein hormones also interact with intracellular receptors located in the cytoplasm or nucleus by an intracrine mechanism.
For hormones such as steroid or thyroid hormones, their receptors are located intracellularly within the cytoplasm of their target cell. In order to bind their receptors these hormones must cross the cell membrane. The combined hormone-receptor complex then moves across the nuclear membrane into the nucleus of the cell, where it binds to specific DNA sequences, effectively amplifying or suppressing the action of certain genes, and affecting protein synthesis. However, it has been shown that not all steroid receptors are located intracellularly, some are plasma membrane associated.
An important consideration, dictating the level at which cellular signal transduction pathways are activated in response to a hormonal signal is the effective concentration of hormone-receptor complexes that are formed. Hormone-receptor complex concentrations are effectively determined by three factors:
  1. The number of hormone molecules available for complex formation
  2. The number of receptor molecules available for complex formation and
  3. The binding affinity between hormone and receptor.
The number of hormone molecules available for complex formation is usually the key factor in determining the level at which signal transduction pathways are activated. The number of hormone molecules available being determined by the concentration of circulating hormone, which is in turn influenced by the level and rate at which they are secreted by biosynthetic cells. The number of receptors at the cell surface of the receiving cell can also be varied as can the affinity between the hormone and its receptor.

Physiology of hormones

Most cells are capable of producing one or more molecules, which act as signalling molecules to other cells, altering their growth, function, or metabolism. The classical hormones produced by cells in the endocrine glands mentioned so far in this article are cellular products, specialized to serve as regulators at the overall organism level. However they may also exert their effects solely within the tissue in which they are produced and originally released.
The rate of hormone biosynthesis and secretion is often regulated by a homeostatic negative feedback control mechanism. Such a mechanism depends on factors which influence the metabolism and excretion of hormones. Thus, higher hormome concentration alone can not trigger the negative feedback mechanism. Negative feedback must be triggered by overproduction of an "effect" of the hormone.
Hormone secretion can be stimulated and inhibited by:
  • Other hormones (stimulating- or releasing-hormones)
  • Plasma concentrations of ions or nutrients, as well as binding globulins
  • Neurons and mental activity
  • Environmental changes, e.g., of light or temperature
One special group of hormones is the tropic hormones that stimulate the hormone production of other endocrine glands. For example, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) causes growth and increased activity of another endocrine gland, the thyroid, which increases output of thyroid hormones.
A recently-identified class of hormones is that of the "hunger hormones" - ghrelin, orexin and PYY 3-36 - and "satiety hormones" - e.g., leptin, obestatin, nesfatin-1.
In order to release active hormones quickly into the circulation, hormone biosynthetic cells may produce and store biologically inactive hormones in the form of pre- or prohormones. These can then be quickly converted into their active hormone form in response to a particular stimulus.

Hormone effects

Hormone effects vary widely, but can include:
In many cases, one hormone may regulate the production and release of other hormones
Many of the responses to hormone signals can be described as serving to regulate metabolic activity of an organ or tissue.

Chemical classes of hormones

Vertebrate hormones fall into three chemical classes:


Many hormones and their analogues are used as medication. The most commonly-prescribed hormones are estrogens and progestagens (as methods of hormonal contraception and as HRT), thyroxine (as levothyroxine, for hypothyroidism) and steroids (for autoimmune diseases and several respiratory disorders). Insulin is used by many diabetics. Local preparations for use in otolaryngology often contain pharmacologic equivalents of adrenaline, while steroid and vitamin D creams are used extensively in dermatological practice.
A "pharmacologic dose" of a hormone is a medical usage referring to an amount of a hormone far greater than naturally occurs in a healthy body. The effects of pharmacologic doses of hormones may be different from responses to naturally-occurring amounts and may be therapeutically useful. An example is the ability of pharmacologic doses of glucocorticoid to suppress inflammation.

Important human hormones

Spelling is not uniform for many hormones. Current North American and international usage is estrogen, gonadotropin, while British usage retains the Greek diphthong in oestrogen and favors the earlier spelling gonadotrophin (from trophē ‘nourishment, sustenance’ rather than tropē ‘turning, change’.


See also

hormones in Arabic: هرمون
hormones in Bosnian: Hormon
hormones in Bulgarian: Хормон
hormones in Catalan: Hormona
hormones in Czech: Hormon
hormones in Danish: Hormon
hormones in German: Hormon
hormones in Modern Greek (1453-): Ορμόνη
hormones in Spanish: Hormona
hormones in Esperanto: Hormono
hormones in Persian: هورمون
hormones in French: Hormone
hormones in Korean: 호르몬
hormones in Croatian: Hormoni
hormones in Ido: Hormono
hormones in Indonesian: Hormon
hormones in Icelandic: Hormón
hormones in Italian: Ormone
hormones in Hebrew: הורמון
hormones in Pampanga: Hormone
hormones in Georgian: ჰორმონი
hormones in Kurdish: Hormon
hormones in Latin: Hormon
hormones in Latvian: Hormoni
hormones in Lithuanian: Hormonas
hormones in Hungarian: Hormon
hormones in Macedonian: Хормони
hormones in Malay (macrolanguage): Hormon
hormones in Dutch: Hormoon
hormones in Japanese: ホルモン
hormones in Norwegian: Hormon
hormones in Norwegian Nynorsk: Hormon
hormones in Occitan (post 1500): Ormona
hormones in Polish: Hormon
hormones in Portuguese: Hormona
hormones in Romanian: Hormon
hormones in Russian: Гормоны
hormones in Simple English: Hormone
hormones in Slovak: Hormón
hormones in Slovenian: Hormon
hormones in Serbian: Хормони
hormones in Sundanese: Hormon
hormones in Finnish: Hormoni
hormones in Swedish: Hormon
hormones in Thai: ฮอร์โมน
hormones in Tajik: Ҳормон
hormones in Turkish: Hormon
hormones in Ukrainian: Гормон
hormones in Urdu: Hormone
hormones in Yiddish: הארמאן
hormones in Chinese: 激素
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