Lipid-Derived Hormones

Learning Outcomes

  • Explain the role of lipid-derived hormones in maintaining homeostasis

Maintaining homeostasis within the body requires the coordination of many different systems and organs. Communication between neighboring cells, and between cells and tissues in distant parts of the body, occurs through the release of chemicals called hormones. Hormones are released into body fluids (usually blood) that carry these chemicals to their target cells. At the target cells, which are cells that have a receptor for a signal or ligand from a signal cell, the hormones elicit a response. The cells, tissues, and organs that secrete hormones make up the endocrine system. Examples of glands of the endocrine system include the adrenal glands, which produce hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine that regulate responses to stress, and the thyroid gland, which produces thyroid hormones that regulate metabolic rates.

Most lipid hormones are derived from cholesterol and thus are structurally similar to it, as illustrated in Figure 1. The primary class of lipid hormones in humans is the steroid hormones. Chemically, these hormones are usually ketones or alcohols; their chemical names will end in “-ol” for alcohols or “-one” for ketones. Examples of steroid hormones include estradiol, which is an estrogen, or female sex hormone, and testosterone, which is an androgen, or male sex hormone. These two hormones are released by the female and male reproductive organs, respectively. Other steroid hormones include aldosterone and cortisol, which are released by the adrenal glands along with some other types of androgens. Steroid hormones are insoluble in water, and they are transported by transport proteins in blood. As a result, they remain in circulation longer than peptide hormones. For example, cortisol has a half-life of 60 to 90 minutes, while epinephrine, an amino acid derived-hormone, has a half-life of approximately one minute.

Part A shows the molecular structure of cholesterol, which has three six-carbon rings attached to a five-carbon ring. A hydroxyl group is attached to the first six-membered ring, and a branched carbon chain is attached to the five-membered ring. Two methyl groups are attached each to a carbon that links the rings together. Part B shows the molecular structure of testosterone, which has a hydroxyl group in place of the branched carbon chain found on cholesterol. A ketone instead of a hydroxyl group is attached to the six-membered ring. Part C shows the molecular structure of estradiol, which, like testosterone, has a hydroxyl group in place of cholesterol’s branched carbon chain. Estradiol also lacks one of the methyl groups found in cholesterol.

Figure 1. The structures shown here represent (a) cholesterol, plus the steroid hormones (b) testosterone and (c) estradiol.

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