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What Are Neuroendocrine Cells?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 11 March 2014
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Neuroendocrine cells, also known as neurosecretory cells, are specialized neurons that respond to signals from other neurons by releasing hormones into the blood. Upon receiving a neural signal, most neurons transmit electrical signals to other neurons or to particular parts of the body. Neuroendocrine cells are different because they release chemical signals in the form of hormones to send information throughout the body. These specialized cells are important because, as implied by their name, they link the nervous system and the endocrine system. The nervous system sends electrical signals to certain parts of the body for sensory communication and for motor control while the endocrine system is composed of many glands that release hormones into the blood for regulatory purposes.

The hypothalamus, a small but highly important part of the brain, is one of the primary points of neuroendocrine activity in the body. Different parts of the hypothalamus respond to electrical and chemical signals and respond in a wide variety of ways by sending further chemical or electrical signals. The pituitary gland, and important endocrine gland responsible for releasing many important hormones, is connected to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus contains many neuroendocrine cells that release important regulatory chemicals into the blood. Some of these chemicals actually regulate the endocrine activity of the pituitary gland itself.

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The realization that many of the chemicals that are released into the blood through the endocrine system are controlled by the brain and nervous system led to the formation of the field of neuroendocrinology. Neuroendocrinology is the field concerned with the study of neuroendocrine cells and of all of the interactions between the endocrine system and the nervous system. Increased understanding of these interactions has led to a more complete understanding of both systems. This is important because there are many different illnesses and disorders related to both systems and to the interactions between them.

There are, for example, several different types of cancer that affect neuroendocrine cells in the neuroendocrine system. The uncontrolled cell division caused by the cancer can cause the neuroendocrine cells to release hormones without plan or centralized control. This uncontrolled release of signaling chemicals throws the chemical balance of the body into a state of disarray, causing many unpleasant symptoms. Such tumors can cause weight gain or weight loss, mood swings, digestive or excretory problems, or many other problems. Many different processes in the body are moderated by the proper balance of chemicals, so uncontrolled release can cause a vast array of problems.

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pleonasm
Post 3

@irontoenail - I think the problem with this is not so much that we don't know how to manipulate neuroendocrine cells. I'm sure if necessary, we could get them to release a particular hormone. In fact, many hormones already have a synthetic substitute, so in a way, we don't need to manipulate those cells at all.

But, the different things you're describing require input from lots of different things, not just a single hormone.

Believe me, if it was that easy to help people lose weight, they would have already done it and be making millions from it.

I'm sure science is heading in that direction but we've still got a way to go.

irontoenail
Post 2

@Mor - Indeed, I think perhaps one day they will have a better grasp on neuroendocrine cells and be able to do all sorts of things with the human body.

I mean, when you think about it, hormones control so many aspects of your life, from your mood, to your fertility, to your blood sugar levels.

If you could pick and choose which hormones were in your blood at any one time, you could make it so that you were no longer hungry unless you wanted to be, or speed up your metabolism so that no one had to be overweight. You could bring up your libido to match your partners, or make yourself less tired when you needed to be alert. You might even be able to help people with mood disorders.

Hormones also play a role in cell death, so you could even help people to live longer.

Mor
Post 1

It's amazing how many things in your body are controlled by neuroendocrine cells.

I mean, I suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome and I know what it means to have your hormones be out of wack.

I most likely only have one or two that overproduce male hormones, and manage to mess up my skin, my ovaries, my hair, my weight, my blood sugar, and eventually, possibly my other body systems as well. All that for the want of a hormone balance!

I wonder if, someday, they will be able to manipulate the signals of neuroendocrine cells and make it so that people like me, or people who suffer from other kinds of hormone imbalances will be able to get direct and permanent relief, instead of relying on medication which doesn't seem to have been perfected yet.

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