Pharmacology of the Endocrine System

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Your body would cease to function without the endocrine system. This lesson describes what this system is as well as examples of the pharmacology related to it.

The Nervous System

If you wanted to send a very fast and direct message to someone locally, you could rely on fiber optic cables to do so. They directly connect point A to point B, transmit the message, and do so quickly. That's what web-based communication relies on. This fiber optic messaging system is akin to our nervous system in its speed, directness, local action, and role for the transmission of messages within the body.

But there's another way our body can communicate within itself, called the endocrine system. Let's learn more about the system and its pharmacology.

Endocrine System Basics

First, let's quickly summarize how the endocrine system works in order to better understand its pharmacology. Besides fiber optic-like nerve fibers in our body, we have another way to transmit messages between different areas of our body.

Let's see how. In order to send out a message, you could pack a million identical messages in a bottle, release them into the ocean, and see what happens as they spread out across the world. Some messages will get to their target really quickly, while others will take days, or longer. Some messages, when they arrive, will have no meaning to the recipient and will not be acted upon. Other bottles will have significance to the recipient and will be acted upon. This method of communication is like our endocrine system.

The endocrine system is controlled by two parts of the brain: the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus. This system coordinates the various functions of our body by transmitting information in the form of biochemicals between individual cells and tissues of the body. It does so by releasing the messengers , called hormones, into our bloodstream (like that ocean from before). The bloodstream carries these messages throughout our body. Some parts of the body pay no attention to the hormones, as they have no receptors for them, while others are stimulated by these same hormones into action.

However, unlike a fiber optic cable's (nerve cell's) quick transmission, receipt of, and action upon the transmitted information, the endocrine system is a bit different. The body's response to hormones can take seconds, minutes, days, or even longer. The response of our body to the stimulation by those hormones can be equally short, or it may last for months.

Some parts of the endocrine system are labeled here.
Endocrine system

Endocrine System Pharmacology

There are many drugs that can be used to influence the endocrine system. Consider the thyroid gland, an important part of this system. The thyroid gland helps regulate our body's metabolism. It produces two thyroid hormones, called T3 and T4. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which insufficient amounts of these hormones are secreted. This, in turn, can cause a slow heart rate, a greater susceptibility to infections, sensitivity to cold temperatures, as well as mental and physical fatigue. To treat this, a person can be given a synthetic thyroid hormone, identical to T4, called levothyroxine.

Another important disorder involving the endocrine system is diabetes mellitus, the disorder famous for causing high blood sugar. One of the potential reasons for this is a deficiency of a hormone, produced by the pancreas, called insulin. Ergo, individuals lacking enough insulin are treated with laboratory-produced version of this same hormone.

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