The endocrine system controls many processes such as metabolism, growth, fluid balance, and behavioral changes, such as a response to stress. The endocrine system consists of different glands, located in various parts of the body, used to produce hormones that regulate body functions. A hormone is a chemical compound that signals growth and development which is secreted from endocrine glands into the bloodstream. Hormones regulate endocrine responses in specific cells. Different glands produce hormones that regulate various processes in the body, such as development, tissue function, reproduction, sleep, and mood. The nervous system works with the endocrine system as hormones provide feedback to the brain and the brain influences hormone production in response to both external and internal stimuli. The nervous system consists of a network of organs that includes the brain, spinal cord, and nerves that connects all the organs in the body and regulates body functions. It uses electrical and chemical signals to communicate between different parts of the body.
The integration of endocrine organs with the nervous system is important for many critical processes in animals. The growth and development of invertebrates, such as the caterpillar, occurs in distinct stages. An endocrine pathway that originates from the brain controls this process of growth. Neural cells in the brain produce a hormone. When this hormone reaches an endocrine organ, it induces a cascade of hormones that control the transition of a caterpillar's development from one stage to another.
Organs of the Endocrine System
The endocrine system comprises glands, which secrete hormones (chemical messengers) into the bloodstream. The hormones then travel within the bloodstream to their target tissue, where they can exert their effect. Endocrine glands are ductless organs of many different types. Regardless of their type, they all function to secrete hormones into the body's fluid to help with systemic regulation and communication. There are nine endocrine glands.
- The hypothalamus is a structure in the brain that links the nervous and endocrine systems, responding to signals from other parts of the brain and hormone feedback mechanisms. The hypothalamus produces hormones that regulate the pituitary gland.
- The pituitary gland is located near the bottom of the brain and is often called the master gland because its hormones control several other endocrine glands. It consists of two lobes, each producing different hormones. One such hormone is growth hormone (GH), which aids in development and growth.
- The pineal gland is a small endocrine gland located in the brain that plays a role in the production of melatonin, a hormone that aids in the regulation of sleep patterns.
- The thyroid gland is an endocrine gland located in the front of the neck that produces thyroid hormones that help regulate metabolic processes, heat production, and the development and function of other organ systems. The thyroid hormones contain iodine.
- A parathyroid gland is one of four small endocrine glands located near or within the thyroid gland that release hormones that help maintain calcium and phosphorus levels in the body. These hormones are important for bone development.
- An adrenal gland is one of two endocrine glands located on the top of each kidney consisting of the medulla and the cortex that release hormones that help regulate critical functions in the body, such as blood pressure, the immune system, and the metabolism. The inner portion, called the adrenal medulla, releases hormones such as epinephrine that increase heart rate and increase blood flow to the muscles. The adrenal cortex, found on the outer portion of the gland, helps control blood sugar levels, responds to stressful stimuli, and helps the kidneys regulate blood pressure.
- The pancreas is found near the stomach and small intestine. It secretes digestive enzymes that help with digestion. It also releases hormones to help maintain healthy glucose levels in the body. If blood sugar levels are too high, the pancreas secretes insulin. If blood sugar is too low, the pancreas causes the release of stored glucagon to increase blood sugar.
- There are reproductive glands in both males and females. The ovary aids in production of estrogen and progesterone hormones in females. Both hormones are important to maintain sexual traits and aid in pregnancy. The testes produce testosterone that helps with male development and the maintenance of male sexual traits.
The Nervous System
Multicellular organisms have complex nervous systems that function to receive and process internal or external information and to control body responses. These systems must be able to receive and interpret sensory signals that come from external stimuli. Once received, these signals must be transmitted through the body so that the organism can respond. All body activities are performed through a coordinated action of the nervous system with other body systems. The nervous system is divided into two broad categories: central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS). The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system consists of nerves that travel from the CNS to the rest of the body.The brain is the control center, regulating internal responses to stimuli, controlling organism behavior, and maintaining homeostasis. It processes external information received from sensory organs, as well as internal information from hormone feedback. The spinal cord links the brain to the rest of the body through nerves of the PNS. This is regarded as a neural highway where neural signals mediate the flow of information to and from the brain. The PNS is further divided into two systems: the somatic nervous system and autonomic nervous system. The somatic nervous system provides signals to and from the skeletal muscles. Most of the voluntary responses to signals in the environment are controlled by the somatic nervous system. For example, the process of catching a ball involves a variety of sensory signals and voluntary muscular responses.
The autonomic nervous system plays a role in involuntary processes such as heartbeats and digestion. It also plays a role in homeostasis through the components of the sympathetic nervous system, the system that stimulates the body for a fight-or-flight response during an environmental stimuli response. The autonomic nervous system stimulates routine functions like the regulation of digestive enzymes or saliva production through the components of the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system slows down the heart rate after the fight-or-flight response elicited from the sympathetic nervous system.