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Pituitary hormones and immune function

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The pituitary gland plays a key role in the regulation of growth, differentiation and function of all cells in the body, including immunocytes. Immune reactions are generated through the proliferation of antigen‐specific lymphocyte clones. Growth hormone and prolactin are required for the development of mature lymphocytes and for the maintenance of immunocompetence. These hormones enable lymphocytes to respond to antigen, which is delivered as an adherence signal in the context of major histocompatibility surface molecules of antigen‐presenting cells. Numerous other adhesion molecules play a role in the regulation of lymphocyte activation. The activation process is completed by cytokine signalling, after which lymphocyte proliferation, differentiation and functional maturation take place. Interleukins, hormones and growth factors may all function as cytokines. Many lymphocytes exist in the body in a quiescent state, with minimal metabolic activities. These cells are maintained by competence hormones and insulin‐like growth factor I, which are present in the systemic and local environment. Apparently, some steroid hormones, opioid peptides and catecholamines are capable of modulating delivery of the signal from the lymphocyte membrane receptor to the nucleus. Steroid and thyroid hormones control nuclear transcription factors as their receptors, and thus are powerful regulators of lymphocyte signalling at the nuclear level. The bioactive forms of thyroid hormone and of several steroid hormones are generated locally by immunocytes. These important hormonal immunoregulators function both at systemic and local levels. Glucocorticoids are major regulators of cytokine production, and α‐melanocyte‐stimulating hormone functions as a powerful cytokine antagonist. The hormones secreted or regulated by the pituitary gland therefore regulate every level of immune activity, including the competence of lymphocytes to respond to immune/inflammatory stimuli, signal transduction, gene activation, the production and activity of cytokines and other immune effector functions. □ Pituitary hormones, immune function, growth hormone, prolactin, lymphocytes, cytokines, thyroid hormone, glucocorticoids, insulin‐like growth factor I, steroid hormones

Document Type: Review Article


Publication date: 1997-11-01

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