(IGP) GS Paper 1 - General Science - "The Endocrine System"

Integrated Guidance Programme of General Studies for IAS (Pre) - 2013

Subject - General Science
Chapter : The Endocrine System

The Endocrine System

  • The endocrine system maintains homeostasis and long-term control using chemical signals.
  • The endocrine system works in parallel with the nervous system to control growth and maturation along with homeostasis.


The endocrine system is a collection of glands that secrete chemical messages we call hormones. These signals are passed through the blood to arrive at a target organ, which has cells possessing the appropriate receptor. Exocrine glands (not part of the endocrine system) secrete products that are passed outside the body. Sweat glands, salivary glands, and digestive glands are examples of exocrine glands. Hormones are grouped into three classes based on their structure:

  • steroids

  • peptides

  • amines


  • Steroids are lipids derived from cholesterol.

  • Testosterone is the male sex hormone.

  • Estradiol, similar in structure to testosterone, is responsible for many female sex characteristics.

  • Steroid hormones are secreted by the gonads, adrenal cortex, and placenta.


Peptides are short chains of amino acids; most hormones are peptides. They are secreted by the pituitary, parathyroid, heart, stomach, liver, and kidneys.


Amines are derived from the amino acid tyrosine and are secreted from the thyroid and the adrenal medulla. Solubility of the various hormone classes varies.

The Nervous and Endocrine Systems

  • The pituitary gland (often called the master gland) is located in a small bony cavity at the base of the brain. A stalk links the pituitary to the hypothalamus, which controls release of pituitary hormones. The pituitary gland has two lobes: the anterior and posterior lobes. The anterior pituitary is glandular.

  • The hypothalamus contains neurons that control releases from the anterior pituitary. Seven hypothalamic hormones are released into a portal system connecting the hypothalamus and pituitary, and cause targets in the pituitary to release eight hormones.

Anterior Pituitary

Growth hormone (GH) is a peptide anterior pituitary hormone essential for growth. GH-releasing hormone stimulates release of GH. GH-inhibiting hormone suppresses the release of GH. The hypothalamus maintains homeostatic levels of GH. Cells under the action of GH increase in size (hypertrophy) and number (hyperplasia). GH also causes increase in bone length and thickness by deposition of cartilage at the ends of bones.  

The Posterior Pituitary

The posterior pituitary stores and releases hormones into the blood. Antidiuretic hormone (ADH) and oxytocin are produced in the hypothalamus and transported by axons to the posterior pituitary where they are dumped into the blood. ADH controls water balance in the body and blood pressure. Oxytocin is a small peptide hormone that stimulates uterine contractions during childbirth.

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The Adrenal Glands

Each kidney has an adrenal gland located above it. The adrenal gland is divided into an inner medulla and an outer cortex. The medulla synthesizes amine hormones, the cortex secretes steroid hormones. The adrenal medulla consists of modified neurons that secrete two hormones: epinephrine and norepinephrine. Stimulation of the cortex by the sympathetic nervous system causes release of hormones into the blood to initiate the “fight or flight” response. The adrenal cortex produces several steroid hormones in three classes: mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids, and sex hormones. Mineralocorticoids maintain electrolyte balance. Glucocorticoids produce a long-term, slow response to stress by raising blood glucose levels through the breakdown of fats and proteins; they also suppress the immune response and inhibit the inflammatory response.

The Thyroid Gland

  • The thyroid gland is located in the neck. Follicles in the thyroid secrete thyroglobulin, a storage form of thyroid hormone. Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) from the anterior pituitary causes conversion of thyroglobulin into thyroid hormones T4 and T3. Almost all body cells are targets of thyroid hormones.

  • Thyroid hormone increases the overall metabolic rate, regulates growth and development as well as the onset of sexual maturity. Calcitonin is also secreted by large cells in the thyroid; it plays a role in regulation of calcium.

The Pancreas

The pancreas contains exocrine cells that secrete digestive enzymes into the small intestine and clusters of endocrine cells (the pancreatic islets). The islets secrete the hormones insulin and glucagon, which regulate blood glucose levels.

Other Chemical Messengers

  • Interferons are proteins released when a cell has been attacked by a virus. They cause neighboring cells to produce antiviral proteins. Once activated, these proteins destroy the virus.

  • Prostaglandins are fatty acids that behave in many ways like hormones. They are produced by most cells in the body and act on neighboring cells.

  • Pheromones are chemical signals that travel between organisms rather than between cells within an organism. Pheromones are used to mark territory, signal prospective mates, and communicate. The presence of a human sex attractant/pheromone has not been established conclusively. 

Kidneys; The Fascinating Filters

The spinal cord runs along the dorsal side of the body and links the brain to the rest of the body. Vertebrates have their spinal cords encased in a series of (usually) bony vertebrae that comprise the vertebral column. The gray matter of the spinal cord consists mostly of cell bodies and dendrites. The surrounding white matter is made up of bundles of interneuronal axons (tracts). Some tracts are ascending (carrying messages to the brain), others are descending (carrying messages from the brain). The spinal cord is also involved in reflexes that do not immediately involve the brain.

The Neuron

  • Kidneys are often described as bean shaped.

  • Each kidney is make up a about a million narrow tube-like structures called ‘nephrons’. The urine formed by a kidney in a sum total of a the urine formed by its neprpons.

  • A Nephron consists of a receptacle (Bowman’s capsule) enclosing a bunch of capillaries (glomerular) like a closed fist. The glomerulus and Bowman’s capsule filter the blood.

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