Introduction

Hormones are amongst the most important group of regulatory molecules produced by the body. Originally, the term hormone was defined as a substance synthesized and released from a specific gland in the body that, by interacting with a receptor present in/on a distant sensitive cell, brought about a change in that target cell. Hormones travel to the target cell via the circulatory system. This describes what is now termed a true endocrine hormone.

At its loosest definition, some now consider a hormone to be any regulatory substance that carries a signal to generate some alteration at a cellular level. This embraces the concept of paracrine regulators (i.e. produced in the immediate vicinity of their target cells) and autocrine regulators (i.e. producer cell is also the target cell). Under such a broad definition, all cytokines, for example, could be considered hormones. The delineation between a cytokine and a hormone is already quite fuzzy using any definition.

True endocrine hormones, however, remain a fairly well defined group. Virtually all of the hormones used therapeutically (discussed below) fit into this grouping. Examples include insulin, glucagon, GH and the gonadotrophins.

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