Endocrine System

Types of Hormones

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Ben Whitten


What is a hormone?

A hormone is a chemical substance secreted by specialised cells in an endocrine gland into the blood which binds to receptors found on or in target cells, acting to change the activity of the cell. Hormones circulate through the bloodstream and are specific; this means that they are only able to influence cells which have the correct receptor for that hormone. If all receptor molecules are occupied by hormone molecules, saturation occurs; this means that any additional hormone secretions will not produce a greater effect.

What are the two types of hormones?
  • Protein/amine hormones

  • Steroid hormones

Protein/amine hormones are water-soluble and cannot pass through the cell membrane. These types of hormones work by attaching to receptor molecules found on the cell membrane of a target cell. The formation of a hormone-receptor complex causes a secondary messenger substance to diffuse through the cell and activate a particular enzyme; these hormones cause a response rapidly but are short-lasting.

Steroid hormones are lipid-soluble and can pass through the cell membrane. These types of hormones enter a target cell by diffusion through the cell membrane and combining with a receptor protein in the cytoplasm, forming a hormone-receptor complex. The hormone-receptor complex then enters the nucleus, altering gene expression (protein synthesis). These hormones are slow in their effect, but longer lasting.

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Endocrine System
Types of Hormones
Enzyme Amplification and Hormone Clearance
The Hypothalamus and Pituitary Gland
Pituitary Gland Hormones
Other Endocrine Glands
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How do hormones change cell activity?

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Hormones change the functioning of cells via changing the quantity, type or activities of proteins (including enzymes). Hormones may do any of the following:

  • Activate genes in the nucleus to produce a particular structural protein or enzyme (turning genes on)

  • Alter the shape or structure of an enzyme so that it’s turned on/off

  • Alter the rate of production of an enzyme or structural protein

What are synthetic hormones?

Some hormones are produced artificially in a laboratory, named synthetic hormones. Synthetic hormones can produce side effects which natural hormones do not produce, as they may have a slightly different molecular structure and the body may react to these differences. For example, levothyroxine is a synthetic hormone to treat hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid meaning low thyroxine levels).