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.
Biosynthesis of steroid hormones requires a battery of oxidative enzymes located in both mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum. The rate-limiting step in this process is the transport of free cholesterol from the cytoplasm into mitochondria. Within mitochondria, cholesterol is converted to pregnenolone by an enzyme in the inner membrane called CYP11A1. Pregnenolone itself is not a hormone, but is the immediate precursor for the synthesis of all of the steroid hormones. The following table delineates the enzymes required to synthesize the major classes of steroid hormones.