Endocrine System

If you are like most people, you eat several meals and occasional snacks each day, but rarely think about the immense number of tasks that must be performed by your digestive system to break down, absorb and assimilate those nutrients. Robust control systems are required to coordinate digestive processes in man and animals, and are provided by both the nervous and endocrine systems. Endocrine control over digestive functions is provided by the so-called enteric endocrine system, which is summarized elsewhere.

The classical GI hormones are secreted by epithelial cells lining the lumen of the stomach and small intestine. These hormone-secreting cells - endocrinocytes - are interspersed among a much larger number of epithelial cells that secrete their products (acid, mucus, etc.) into the lumen or take up nutrients from the lumen. GI hormones are secreted into blood, and hence circulate systemically, where they affect function of other parts of the digestive tube, liver, pancreas, brain and a variety of other targets.

There are a bunch of hormones, neuropeptides and neurotransmitters that affect gastrointestinal function. Interestingly, a number of the classical GI hormones are also synthesized in the brain, and sometimes referred to as "brain-gut peptides". The significance of this pattern of expression is not clear.

The following table summarizes the effects and stimuli for release of the major gastrointestinal hormones, each of which is discussed in more detail on subsequent pages:

Hormone Major Activities Stimuli for Release
Gastrin Stimulates gastric acid secretion and proliferation of gastric epithelium Presence of peptides and amino acids in gastric lumen
Cholecystokinin Stimulates secretion of pancreatic enzymes, and contraction and emptying of the gall bladder Presence of fatty acids and amino acids in the small intestine
Secretin Stimulates secretion of water and bicarbonate from the pancreas and bile ducts Acidic pH in the lumen of the small intestine
Ghrelin Appears to be a strong stimulant for appetite and feeding; also a potent stimulator of growth hormone secretion. Not clear, but secretion peaks prior to feeding and diminishes with gastric filling
Motilin Apparently involved in stimulating housekeeping patterns of motility in the stomach and small intestine Not clear, but secretion is associated with fasting
Gastric inhibitory
Inhibits gastric secretion and motility and potentiates release of insulin from beta cells in response to elevated blood glucose concentration Presence of fat and glucose in the small intestine

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