The secretion of hypothalamic, pituitary, and target tissue hormones is under tight regulatory control by a series of feedback and feed- forward loops. This complexity can be demonstrated using the growth hormone (GH) regulatory system as an example. The stimulatory substance growth hormone releasing hormone (GHRH) and the inhibitory substance somatostatin (SS) both products of the hypothalamus, control pituitary GH secretion. Somatostatin is also called growth hormone-inhibiting hormone (GHIH). Under the influence of GHRH, growth hormone is released into the systemic circulation, causing the target tissue to secrete insulin-like growth factor-1, IGF-1. Growth hormone also has other more direct metabolic effects; it is both hyperglycemic and lipolytic. The principal source of systemic IGF-1 is the liver, although most other tissues secrete and contribute to systemic IGF-1. Liver IGF-1 is considered to be the principal regulator of tissue growth. In particular, the IGF-1 secreted by the liver is believed to synchronize growth throughout the body, resulting in a homeostatic balance of tissue size and mass. IGF-1 secreted by peripheral tissues is generally considered to be autocrine or paracrine in its biological action.
Cells of the zona fasciculata and zona reticularis lack aldosterone synthase (CYP11B2) that converts corticosterone to aldosterone, and thus these tissues produce only the weak mineralocorticoid corticosterone. However, both these zones do contain the CYP17A1 missing in zona glomerulosa and thus produce the major glucocorticoid, cortisol. Zona fasciculata and zona reticularis cells also contain CYP17A1, whose 17,20-lyase activity is responsible for producing the androgens, dehydroepiandosterone (DHEA) and androstenedione. Thus, fasciculata and reticularis cells can make corticosteroids and the adrenal androgens, but not aldosterone.
During times of stress the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys produce a stress hormone called cortisol. Like steroid sex hormones, cortisol is also a steroid hormone that is made from cholesterol. The adrenal glands have two main layers, an inner and an outer layer. Cortisol is produced by the outer layer, called the adrenal cortex. Since it is a steroid hormone, and belongs to a group of hormones called glucocorticoids, it can freely pass through the cell membrane. During times of stress, cortisol causes cells to release sugar into the blood stream and preserves energy by stopping or slowing certain bodily functions that are not important for fighting or fleeing. These include appetite, digestion and reproductive functions.