All you need to know about Neuroendocrinology
Neuroendocrinology lies at the intersection of two major disciplines, neurobiology and endocrinology. These studies all forms of interactions between the nervous system and the endocrine system: the control that the first exerts on the second, the actions those hormones can have on the nervous system in order to adapt the organism to fluctuations in the internal environment and the environment, and also the ability of the nervous system to produce peptide or steroid hormones. The real conductor of the endocrine concert is not the pituitary gland as we had initially thought, but the hypothalamic-pituitary complex linked and integrated into the central nervous system. Endocrine problems are, in fact, in most cases, from neuroendocrinology.
What is Neuroendocrinology?
As a branch of endocrinology, neuroendocrine science is dedicated to the interaction between the nervous and endocrine systems.
Neuroendocrinology deals with research as well as diagnosis and treatment of neuroendocrine diseases. As part of the field of endocrinology, neuroendocrine science is dedicated to the Interaction between the nerves - and hormonal system. On the one hand, it examines the effect the central nervous system has on hormonal processes. On the other hand, it is about the extent to which the hormones circulating in the blood influence the activity of nerve cells.
The central interface between the nervous system and the hormonal system is located in the human brain. These are called the hypothalamus and pituitary gland and are responsible for regulating important body functions. For example, they control metabolic processes, food intake, reproduction and breastfeeding. The function of the thyroid gland and the adrenal glands are also controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Diseases of neuroendocrine origin cause diverse and unspecific symptoms so that in many cases, they can only be diagnosed after many years.
Treatments & therapies
The main subject of neuroendocrine research is hormones, especially peptide hormones. These not only act as messenger substances in the body but also as neurotransmitters in the transmission of signals within the central nervous system. A disruption in the hormone-producing cells and tissues can cause various clinical pictures. Thousands of patients suffering from hormonal and metabolic diseases are treated every year. Neuroendocrine diseases are divided into several categories:
- Diseases of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis,
- Diseases of the peripheral glands,
- Metabolic disorders,
- Sexual development disorders.
Pituitary dysfunction can result in either pituitary insufficiency or even a pituitary tumor. The pathogenesis and therapy of pituitary tumors are currently the focus of research in neuroendocrine research. By revealing the interactive mechanisms in pituitary tumors, immunosuppressive therapy methods can be developed. In addition, research into metabolic disorders plays an essential role in the development of antidepressant treatment methods, since a change in metabolism is often observed in depressed patients.
Quality of life is severely impaired in patients with active pituitary adenomas. This can lead to sleep disorders or increased pain. An improvement only occurs after successful therapy of the hormone excess. The gender reassignment hormone treatment for transsexuals is also part of the treatment spectrum of neuroendocrinology. Hormone treatment is also an option if a patient has hormone insufficiency. This is the case after a traumatic brain injury or subarachnoid hemorrhage, for example. Overall, the main research areas and the range of treatments in this sub-area are very broad.
The complicated interplay between hormones and the nervous system
The two most important structures in neuroendocrinology are the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland (pituitary gland). Both lie in the brain and control vital functions from there.
The hypothalamus is responsible for, among other things
- a healthy day-night rhythm,
- the body temperature and
- Balanced blood pressure.
All these concerns are regulated by the increased or decreased release of corresponding controlling hormones.
The hormones produced in the hypothalamus are not distributed throughout the body via the bloodstream like those produced by other organs. Instead, the hypothalamic hormones act on the pituitary gland, also known as the pituitary gland, located below the hypothalamus, by regulating the release of hormones by the pituitary gland.
These pituitary hormones then control a wide variety of body functions from the thyroid to the adrenal glands to milk production in the female breast.
Areas of activity of a Neuro-endocrinologist
Neuro-endocrinologists are medical specialists who specialize in the treatment of diseases that originate from a malfunction of the neuroendocrine system. This can be caused, for example, by brain tumors or brain injuries. The neuroendocrine focuses include, for example:
- Tumors such as pituitary adenoma (benign tumor of the pituitary gland), multiple endocrine neoplasia type I (joint occurrence of benign pituitary tumors and benign parathyroid tumor)
- Impaired hormone production ( hormone insufficiency ) after a traumatic brain injury
- Thyroid and parathyroid diseases such as hyperthyroidism (overproduction of thyroid hormone), hypothyroidism (insufficient supply of thyroid hormone), hypoparathyroidism (decreased calcium levels mostly due to reduced parathyroid hormone production)
- Adrenal disorders such as hypercortisolism (Cushing's syndrome; increased cortisol production), hypocortisolism (Addison's disease; adrenal hypofunction ), hyperaldosteronism (Conn syndrome; overproduction of aldosterone in the adrenal cortex)
- Metabolic disorders such as hypercalcemia syndrome (increased calcium levels mostly due to increased release of calcium from the bones) and osteoporosis, diabetes mellitus (diabetes), obesity (obesity)
- Disorders of sex hormone production such as polycystic ovary syndrome
- Hormonal problems in psychiatric diseases
- Gender development disorders and transsexuality.
Neuroendocrinology: How hormones make us love
Researchers have discovered a group of neurons that become more activated when a high concentration of sex hormones circulating in the blood, leading to seek the companionship of the opposite sex.
Are you in the mood for flirting lately? This is probably partly linked to your sex hormones, which vary in blood levels, in women and men - albeit less markedly. But how do they act on the brain?
This is what the team of Garret Stuber, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, discovered. The researchers first identified a small group of neurons in mice that control attraction to the opposite sex and whose activity is influenced by sex hormones (estrogen or testosterone).
These neurons are found in the medial optic area, in the hypothalamus, at the center and at the base of the brain. Researchers have shown that they activate when a rodent breathes in the urine of a congener of the opposite sex - admittedly not the hottest stimulus in humans, but it works in mice, while they remain silent in the face of the urine of an animal of the same sex or the smell of another pleasant stimulus, such as food. Connected to brain dopamine factories, these neurons then trigger the release of this key substance of pleasure and desire. To confirm their driving role in attraction, the researchers turned them on artificially using called “optogenetic” techniques: the mice then spent more time with congeners of the opposite sex.
However, researchers have shown that these neurons have sex hormone receptors on their surface and become more active as the concentration of the latter is high. It is, therefore through them that hormones act on romantic behavior. Even if this is probably not the only mechanism leading to love, which can, of course, also concern people of the same sex?
Author: Vicki Lezama