Body Language: How Cells Use Hormones to Communicate

Department: Biomedical Sciences


Instructors: Christa Trexler
Instructors' Emails:
Prerequisites: None

Course Description

This course will introduce students to endocrinology, the study of hormones and endocrine systems, and will also provide an overview and discussion of fundamental biological principles and techniques that enabled important discoveries in this field. Students will learn how the brain, pituitary, and peripheral organs work together to produce hormones that act as chemical messengers to regulate virtually all physiological processes, including stress, metabolism, growth, reproduction, blood pressure, blood sugar, salt and water balance, bone density, and more. By exploring the specific mechanisms through which different organ systems use hormones to communicate, students will also achieve a basic understanding of molecular biology.

Course Goals / Learning Objectives

The overall goals of this course are to:

  • introduce students to the study of hormones and endocrine systems
  • appreciate that hormones act as chemical messengers to maintain homeostasis and regulate a multitude of physiological processes
  • provide an overview of methods in endocrinology and the historical context in which discoveries were made in this field

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Define what a hormone is, and list differences between protein and steroid hormones.
  • Describe basic biological techniques that were utilized to make discoveries in endocrinology.
  • Explain how the brain and pituitary regulate peripheral endocrine organs, including the adrenal gland, thyroid, and gonads, to control stress, metabolism, and reproduction, respectively.
  • Describe the concept of negative feedback, and use this knowledge to predict how different hormones will affect physiology.
  • Define homeostasis, and explain how hormones regulate sugar, salt, and water balance in the body.
  • Solve basic problems in endocrinology and discuss interesting clinical cases.

Topical Outline

  1. Introduction: Endrocinology is the study of hormones and endocrine systems 
  2. Anatomy of endocrine glands: introduction to major hormones, hormonal axes, and negative feedback
  3. The hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis and metabolism
  4. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, stress, and associated diseases
  5. The hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis and regulation of estrogen and testosterone synthesis
  6. Mechanisms of action: how hormones act as chemical messengers
    • Steroids vs protein hormones 
    • Cell membrane receptors vs nuclear receptors 
  7. Methods in endocrinology
    • Important insights from early techniques: how do we know what we know?
    • Decoding molecular pathways in endocrinology 
  8. Homeostasis: what is homeostasis and why is it important?
  9. Maintenance of blood sugar
    • Insulin signaling 
    • Glucagon signaling 
    • Diabetes 
  10. Maintenance of salt and water balance is essential for life outside of water
    • Hormones regulating salt and water in the body and associated disorders
    • Blood pressure
  11. Calcium metabolism and bone density
  12. The growth hormone axis and development


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