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Hormonal agents

Drugs & Medication

Hormonal agents

Antiandrogens | Glucocorticoids | GnRH agonists | Hormonal contraception | Mineralocorticoids | Selective estrogen receptor modulator | Sex steroids

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A hormone (from Greek ορμή - "to set in motion") is a chemical messenger from one cell (or group of cells) to another. All multicellular organisms produce hormones (including plants - see article phytohormone).

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The best-known animal hormones are those produced by endocrine glands of vertebrate animals, but hormones are produced by nearly every organ system and tissue type in an animal body. Hormone molecules are secreted (released) directly into the bloodstream; some hormones, called ectohormones, are not secreted into the blood stream, they move by circulation or diffusion to their target cells, which may be nearby cells (paracrine action) in the same tissue or cells of a distant organ of the body. The function of hormones is to serve as a signal to the target cells; the action of hormones is determined by the pattern of secretion and the signal transduction of the receiving tissue.

Most hormones signal a cell change by combining with a receptor. For many hormones, including most protein hormones, the receptor is embedded in the membrane on the surface of the cell. The interaction of the hormone and the receptor typically triggers a cascade of secondary effects within the cytoplasm of the cell, often involving phosphorylation or dephosphorylation of proteins, changes in ion channels, or increased amounts of an intracellular molecule that serves as a second messenger (e.g., cyclic AMP). The second common type of mechanism, typically involving smaller-sized hormones such as steroid or thyroid hormones, begins with entry of the hormone molecule into the cytoplasm of the cell where it combines with a loose and mobile receptor. The combined hormone-receptor ligand then moves across the nuclear membrane into the nucleus of the cell and binds to the DNA, effectively amplifying or suppressing the action of certain genes, thereby affecting protein synthesis.

Hormone effects vary widely, but can include stimulation or inhibition of growth, induction or suppression of apoptosis (programmed cell death), activation or inhibition of the immune system, regulating metabolism and preparation for a new activity (e.g., fighting, fleeing, mating) or phase of life (e.g., puberty]], caring for offspring, menopause). 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. Hormones also control the reproductive cycle of virtually all multicellular organisms.



The concept of internal secretion developed in the 19th century; Claude Bernard described it in 1855, but did not specifically address the possibility of secretions of one organ acting as messengers to others. Still, various endocrine conditions were recognised and even treated adequately (e.g., hypothyroidism with extract of thyroid glands).

The major breakthrough was the identification of secretin, the hormone secreted by the duodenum that stimulates pancreatic secretions, by Ernest Starling and William Bayliss in 1902. Previously, the process had been considered (e.g., by Ivan Pavlov) to be regulated by the nervous system. Starling and Bayliss demonstrated that injecting duodenal extract into dogs rapidly increased pancreatic secretions, raising the possibility of a chemical messenger.

Starling is also credited with introducing the term hormone, having coined it in a 1905 lecture. Later reports indicate it was suggested to him by the Cambridge physiologist William B. Hardy (Henderson 2005).

The remainder of the 20th century saw all the major hormones discovered, as well as the cloning of the relevant genes and the identification of the many interlocking feedback mechanisms that characterize the endocrine system.

Physiology of hormones

Most cells are capable of producing one or more, sometimes many, molecules which signal other cells to alter their growth, function, or metabolism. The classical endocrine glands and their hormone products are specialized to serve regulation on the overall organism level, but can often be used in other ways or only on the tissue level.

The rate of production of a hormone is often regulated by a homeostatic control system, generally by negative feedback. Homeostatic regulation of hormones depends, apart from production, on the metabolism and excretion of hormones.

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 trophic 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.

Types of hormones

Vertebrate hormones fall into three chemical classes:

  1. Amine-derived hormones are derivatives of the amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan. Examples are catecholamines and thyroxine.
  2. Peptide hormones consist of chains of amino acids. Examples of small peptide hormones are TRH and vasopressin. Peptides composed of scores or hundreds of amino acids are referred to as proteins. Examples of protein hormones include insulin and growth hormone. More complex protein hormones bear carbohydrate side chains and are called glycoprotein hormones. Luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone are glycoprotein hormones.
  3. Lipid and phospholipid-derived hormones derive from lipids such as linoleic acid and arachidonic acid and phospholipids. The main classes are the steroid hormones that derive from cholesterol and the eicosanoids. Examples of steroid hormones are testosterone and cortisol. Sterol hormones such as calcitriol are a homologous system. The adrenal cortex and the gonads are primary sources of steroid hormones. Examples of eicosanoids are the widely studied prostaglandins.


Many hormones and their analogues are used as medication. The most commonly-prescribed hormones are estrogens and progestagens (in the contraceptive pill 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 the unvoiced aspirant h in gonadotrophin.

Amine (derived) hormones

  • Tryptophan derivatives
    • Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine)
      Serotonin (5-HT)
  • Tyrosine derivatives
    • Thyroxine (T4)
      Triiodothyronine (T3)
    • Catecholamines (also tyrosine derivatives)

Peptide hormones

  • Antimullerian hormone (AMH, also mullerian inhibiting factor or hormone)
    Adiponectin (also Acrp30)
    Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH, also corticotropin)
    Angiotensinogen and angiotensin
    Antidiuretic hormone (ADH, also vasopressin, arginine vasopressin, AVP)
    Atrial-natriuretic peptide (ANP, also atriopeptin)
    Cholecystokinin (CCK)
    Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH)
  • Erythropoietin (EPO)
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
  • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH)
  • Growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH)
    Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)
  • Growth hormone (GH or hGH)
  • Inhibin
  • Insulin
  • Insulin-like growth factor (IGF, also somatomedin)
  • Luteinizing hormone (LH)
  • Melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH or α-MSH)
    Neuropeptide Y
    Parathyroid hormone (PTH)
    Prolactin (PRL)
    Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
    Thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH)

Steroid and sterol hormones



  • Vitamin D derivatives
    • Calcitriol

Lipid and phospholipid hormones (eicosanoids)

  • Prostaglandins


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