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Hormones of the Anterior Pituitary Gland: Names & Functions

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  • 0:06 Anterior Pituitary…
  • 1:19 Growth Hormone (GH)
  • 1:56 Prolactin (PRL)
  • 2:58 Tropic Hormones: FSH and LH
  • 4:32 Tropic Hormones: ACTH and TSH
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

The anterior pituitary gland secretes six hormones. In this lesson, you will learn the functions of the hormones: growth hormone (GH), prolactin (PRL), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).

Anterior Pituitary Gland

The pituitary gland hangs by a stalk from the hypothalamus.
Pituitary Location

The pituitary gland is about the size of a bean, and it hangs by a stalk from the hypothalamus. Even though the gland is tiny, its power should not be underestimated. In fact, this gland is sometimes referred to as the 'master gland' because hormones from this gland affect your body's metabolism, growth and development, sexuality, and reproduction. In this lesson, we will focus on just half of this important gland as we discuss the hormones that are produced and secreted from the anterior pituitary.

The pituitary gland hangs down from the hypothalamus, and it is important to keep in mind that these two structures share more than just a common neighborhood inside your head. The anterior pituitary gland relies on regulatory hormones that come from the hypothalamus to tell it when to make and secrete its own hormones. So, we don't want to forget that there is an important relationship between the hypothalamus and the anterior pituitary gland, but for this lesson, we will keep our focus on the six hormones produced directly from your anterior pituitary. Let's start by taking a look at the two hormones that target non-endocrine organs - growth hormone and prolactin.

Growth Hormone (GH)

Growth hormone (GH) sounds like a hormone that would help you grow, and if you thought that, then you are correct! Growth hormone is a hormone secreted by the anterior pituitary gland that promotes growth. It does this in a number of ways, including stimulating cells to grow and divide, increasing bone and muscle growth, and increasing protein synthesis. As you might have guessed, growth hormone is vital for normal physical growth in children; its level rises throughout childhood and peaks during puberty when the pre-teen hits his or her growth spurt.

Prolactin (PRL)

Prolactin is a hormone that stimulates milk production.
Prolactin

Prolactin (PRL) is a hormone released from the anterior pituitary gland that stimulates milk production after childbirth. You can recall this hormone by noting that the prefix 'pro' means 'for' and the suffix 'lactin' refers to 'milk.' So, prolactin is a hormone that is 'for milk production.' In breast-feeding mothers, a suckling infant causes afferent nerve impulses to travel from the lactating breasts to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then tells the anterior pituitary to allow the release of prolactin.

It is interesting to note that when a woman is breast feeding, her serum prolactin concentrations are high, and this contributes to curbing the hormones that trigger ovulation, which in turn reduces fertility. Therefore, when a woman is breast feeding, she has some protection against getting pregnant. Of course, this is not a 100% guaranteed and should not be counted on as a birth control method. The function of prolactin in males is not known.

Tropic Hormones: FSH & LH

We've learned about growth hormone and prolactin, but there are four remaining hormones to discuss. Even though these hormones originate in the anterior pituitary gland, which is an endocrine gland itself, the targets of these four hormones are other endocrine glands. When we look at hormones that have other endocrine glands as their target, we call them tropic hormones. The four tropic hormones of the anterior pituitary gland are: follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). You can remember these hormones by noticing that the first letter of each can be combined to spell the word 'FLAT.'

Follicle-stimulating hormone stimulates the production of egg and sperm.
Follicle Stimulating Hormone

Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) stimulates the growth of follicles in the ovaries and sperm development in the testes. In females, as the follicle grows and matures, the egg is readied for ovulation. Therefore, we can simplify the definition of this hormone by thinking of FSH as the hormone that stimulates production of egg and sperm.

FSH and the next tropic hormone, luteinizing hormone (LH), work synergistically in reproduction because LH triggers ovulation in females and stimulates testosterone production in males. The amounts of FSH and LH, along with some other hormones, are measured in men and women who have difficulty conceiving a child to determine if there is an issue with infertility.

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