Anterior Pituitary Gland


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The pituitary gland sits at the base of the brain, just above the brain stem. It is lobe-shaped and hangs down from the hypothalamus, to which it is connected to via a narrow stalk. The anterior part of the pituitary is toward the front, and the posterior end is toward the back.
The pituitary gland is located at (a) the base of the brain and (b) connected to the hypothalamus by the pituitary stalk. (credit a: modification of work by NCI; credit b: modification of work by Gray’s Anatomy)

OpenStax Biology 2e

The anterior pituitary gland, or adenohypophysis, is surrounded by a capillary network that extends from the hypothalamus, down along the infundibulum, and to the anterior pituitary. This capillary network is a part of the hypophyseal portal system that carries substances from the hypothalamus to the anterior pituitary and hormones from the anterior pituitary into the circulatory system. A portal system carries blood from one capillary network to another; therefore, the hypophyseal portal system allows hormones produced by the hypothalamus to be carried directly to the anterior pituitary without first entering the circulatory system.

The anterior pituitary produces seven hormones: growth hormone (GH), prolactin (PRL), thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), melanin-stimulating hormone (MSH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone (LH). Anterior pituitary hormones are sometimes referred to as tropic hormones, because they control the functioning of other organs. While these hormones are produced by the anterior pituitary, their production is controlled by regulatory hormones produced by the hypothalamus. These regulatory hormones can be releasing hormones or inhibiting hormones, causing more or less of the anterior pituitary hormones to be secreted. These travel from the hypothalamus through the hypophyseal portal system to the anterior pituitary where they exert their effect. Negative feedback then regulates how much of these regulatory hormones are released and how much anterior pituitary hormone is secreted.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


Anterior pituitary gland T1 signal intensity is influenced by time delay after injection of gadodiamide

To test the hypothesis of washout from the anterior pituitary (AP) gland after serial injections of gadodiamide. We included 59 patients with history of at least 5 injections of gadodiamide. Values of mean signal intensity of the AP and of the central pons were measured on unenhanced sagittal T1-weighted images. AP-to-pons signal intensity ratios were calculated dividing the values of the AP by those of the pons. The measurements were performed using MR images acquired at four different time points including baseline (prior to any gadodiamide injection), minimum post-injection time delay, maximum post-injection time delay, and last available MR scans. Normalized ratios (i.e. ratios divided total volume of injected gadodiamide) were also calculated. To assess the difference between ratios, non-parametric Wilcoxon signed-rank test was applied. The correlations were tested with non-parametric Spearman correlation coefficient. A p-value < 0.05 was considered as statistically significant. A statistically significant increase of AP signal intensity was found by comparing the baseline scans with both the minimum time delay (p = 0.003) and maximum time delay scans (p = 0.005). We found significant higher normalized ratios for minimum post-injection time delay with respect to maximum post-injection time delay (p < 0.001). The normalized ratios demonstrated a statistically significant negative correlation with the post-injection time delay (r = – 0.31; p = 0.006). The findings of this study suggest that washout phenomena of retained/deposited gadolinium from the AP are influenced by the total injected volume and post-injection time delay.

Transcriptomic analysis of the porcine anterior pituitary gland during the peri-implantation period

The peri-implantation period is controlled by signals originating from hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis, uterus, and developing embryos. The transcriptomic activity of the anterior pituitary gland may be important for the control of the peri-implantation period. The aim of this study was to determine the alternations in the transcriptomic profile of porcine anterior pituitary gland during the peri-implantation period (days 15-16 of pregnancy) in comparison to established for the respective days of the oestrous cycle. Analysis using a microarray approach indicated that the 651 genes (fold-change ˂ 1.2; P ≤ 0.05) were differentially expressed (DEGs) in the anterior pituitary of pigs during the peri-implantation period when compared to cyclic females. Of these DEGs, 404 were up-regulated and 247 down-regulated. Analysis of occurred relationships among DEGs revealed that some of them are involved in steroid-response and estrogen synthesis, FSH secretion, immune response, PPAR signaling pathway, and the potential for DNA methylation. In conclusion, the altered transcriptomic profile of the porcine pituitary gland in pigs during the peri-implantation period indicates the role of embryos presence in the creation of transcriptomic activity of the pituitary gland in pigs.

Keywords: Anterior pituitary; gene expression; oestrous cycle; pig; pregnancy.

Anterior pituitary gland synthesises dopamine from l-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine (l-dopa)

Prolactin (PRL) is a hormone principally secreted by lactotrophs of the anterior pituitary gland. Although the synthesis and exocytosis of this hormone are mainly under the regulation of hypothalamic dopamine (DA), the possibility that the anterior pituitary synthesises this catecholamine remains unclear. The present study aimed to determine if the anterior pituitary produces DA from the precursor l-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine (l-dopa). Accordingly, we investigated the expression of aromatic l-amino acid decarboxylase (AADC) enzyme and the transporter vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2) in the anterior pituitary, AtT20 and GH3 cells by immunofluorescence and western blotting. Moreover, we investigated the production of DA from l-dopa and its release in vitro. Then, we explored the effects of l-dopa with respect to the secretion of PRL from anterior pituitary fragments. We observed that the anterior pituitary, AtT20 and GH3 cells express both AADC and VMAT2. Next, we detected an increase in DA content after anterior pituitary fragments were incubated with l-dopa. Also, the presence of l-dopa increased DA levels in incubation media and reduced PRL secretion. Likewise, the content of cellular DA increased after AtT20 cells were incubated with l-dopa. In addition, l-dopa reduced corticotrophin-releasing hormone-stimulated adrenocorticotrophic hormone release from these cells after AADC activity was inhibited by NSD-1015. Moreover, DA formation from l-dopa increased apoptosis and decreased proliferation. However, in the presence of NSD-1015, l-dopa decreased apoptosis and increased proliferation rates. These results suggest that the anterior pituitary synthesises DA from l-dopa by AADC and this catecholamine can be released from this gland contributing to the control of PRL secretion. In addition, our results suggest that l-dopa exerts direct actions independently from its metabolisation to DA.

Keywords: AtT20 cells; GH3 cells; anterior pituitary; aromatic l-amino acid decarboxylase; dopamine; l-dopa.

Abundant expression of the membrane-anchored protease-regulator RECK in the anterior pituitary gland and its implication in the growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor 1 axis in mice

The tumor suppressor gene Reversion-inducing cysteine-rich protein with Kazal motifs (Reck) encodes a membrane-anchored protease regulator expressed in multiple tissues in mouse embryos and is essential for embryonic development. In postnatal mice, however, physiological roles for the RECK protein remain unclear. We found in this study that Reck is abundantly expressed in growth hormone (GH)-producing cells (somatotrophs) in the anterior pituitary gland (AP). We also found that two types of viable Reck mutant mice, one with reduced RECK expression (Hypo mice) and the other with induced Reck deficiency from 10 days after birth (iKO mice treated with tamoxifen), exhibit common phenotypes including decreases in body size and plasma levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF1). To gain insights into the function of RECK in the AP, we characterized several somatotroph-associated molecules in the AP of these mice. Immunoreactivity of GH was greatly reduced in tamoxifen-treated iKO mice; in these mice, two membrane receptors involved in the stimulation of GH secretion [growth hormone secretagogue receptor (GHSR) and growth hormone releasing hormone receptor (GHRHR)] were decreased, however, their mRNAs were increased. Decrease in GHSR immunoreactivity and concomitant increase in its mRNA were also found in the other mutant line, Hypo. Furthermore, reduced immunoreactivity of growth hormone receptor (GHR) and concomitant increase in its mRNA was also found in the liver of Hypo mice. These results raise the possibility that RECK supports proper functioning of the GH/IGF1 axis in mice, thereby affecting their growth and metabolism.

Keywords: Growth hormone; Growth hormone receptor; Growth hormone releasing hormone receptor; Growth hormone secretagogue receptor; Insulin-like growth factor 1; RECK; Somatotroph.

Gonadotropin-releasing hormone-Cu complex (Cu-GnRH) transcriptional activity in vivo in the female rat anterior pituitary gland

Unlike gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogues characterized by amino acid replacement in decapeptide primary structure, Cu-GnRH molecule preserves the native sequence but contains a Cu2+ ion stably bound to the nitrogen atoms including that of the imidazole ring of His2. Cu-GnRH can operate via cAMP/PKA signalling in anterior pituitary cells, suggesting that it may affect selected gonadotropic network gene transcription in vivo. We analysed pituitary mRNA expression of Egr-1, Nr5a1, and Lhb based on their role in luteinizing hormone (LH) synthesis; and Nos1, Adcyap1, and Prkaca due to their dependence on cAMP/PKA activity. In two independent experiments, ovariectomized rats received intracerebroventricular pulsatile (one pulse/h or two pulses/h over 5 h) microinjections of 2 nM Cu-GnRH; 2 nM antide (GnRH antagonist) + 2 nM Cu-GnRH; 100 nM PACAP6-38 (PACAP receptor antagonist) + 2 nM Cu-GnRH. Relative expression of selected mRNAs was determined by qRT-PCR. LH serum concentration was examined according to RIA. All examined genes responded to Cu-GnRH stimulation with increased transcriptional activity in a manner dependent on pulse frequency pattern. Increased expression of Nr5a1, Lhb, Nos1, Adcyap1, and Prkaca mRNA was observed solely in rats receiving the complex with frequency of two pulses/h over 5 h. Egr-1 transcription was up-regulated for both applied Cu-GnRH pulsatile patterns. The stimulatory effect of Cu-GnRH on gene transcription was dependent on both GnRH receptor and PAC-1 activation. In conclusion, obtained results indicate that Cu-GnRH complex is a GnRH analogue able to induce both IP3/PKC and cAMP/PKA-dependent gonadotrope network gene transcription in vivo.

Keywords: Cu-GnRH; GnRH receptor; Gonadotrope network genes; PAC1; Rat pituitary; cAMP/PKA.