Pituitary Gland

Pituitary Gland
Pituitary Gland Anatomy. Stocktrek Images/Getty Image

The pituitary gland is a small endocrine organ that controls a multitude of important functions in the body. It is divided into an anterior lobe, intermediate zone, and posterior lobe, all of which are involved in either hormone production or hormone secretion. The pituitary gland is termed the "Master Gland" because it directs other organs and endocrine glands to either suppress or induce hormone production.

Key Takeaways: Pituitary Gland

  • The pituitary gland is called the "Master Gland" because it directs a multitude of endocrine functions in the body. It regulates hormone activity in other endocrine glands and organs.
  • Pituitary activity is regulated by hormones of the hypothalamus, a brain region connected to the pituitary by the pituitary stalk.
  • The pituitary is composed of an anterior and posterior lobe with an intermediate region between the two.
  • Hormones of the anterior pituitary include adrenocorticotropin hormones (ACTH), growth hormone (GH), luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), prolactin (PRL), and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
  • Hormones stored by the posterior pituitary include antidiuretic hormone (ADH) and oxytocin.
  • Melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) is an intermediate pituitary hormone.

Hypothalamus-Pituitary Complex

The pituitary gland and hypothalamus are closely connected both structurally and functionally. The hypothalamus is an important brain structure that has both nervous system and endocrine system function. It serves as a link between the two systems translating nervous system messages into endocrine hormones.

The posterior pituitary is composed of axons that extend from the neurons of the hypothalamus. The posterior pituitary also stores hypothalmic hormones. Blood vessel connections between the hypothalamus and anterior pituitary allow hypothalamic hormones to control anterior pituitary hormone production and secretion. The hypothalamus-pituitary complex serves to maintain homeostasis by monitoring and adjusting physiological processes through hormone secretion.

Pituitary Function

The pituitary gland is involved in several functions of the body including:

  • Growth hormone production
  • Production of hormones that act on other endocrine glands
  • Production of hormones that act on the muscles and the kidneys
  • Endocrine function regulation
  • Storage of hormones produced by the hypothalamus


Directionally, the pituitary gland is located in the middle of the base of the brain, inferior to the hypothalamus. It is nestled within a depression in the sphenoid bone of the skull called the sella turcica. The pituitary gland extends from and is connected to the hypothalamus by a stalk-like structure called the infundibulum, or pituitary stalk.

Pituitary Hormones

The posterior pituitary lobe does not produce hormones but stores hormones produced by the hypothalamus. Posterior pituitary hormones include antidiuretic hormone and oxytocin. The anterior pituitary lobe produces six hormones that are either stimulated or inhibited by hypothalamic hormone secretion. The intermediate pituitary zone produces and secretes melanocyte-stimulating hormone.

Pituitary Hormones
This image shows hormones of the pituitary and their affected organs. ttsz /iStock / Getty Images Plus

Anterior Pituitary Hormones

  • Adrenocorticotropin (ACTH): stimulates the adrenal glands to produce the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Growth Hormone: stimulates growth of tissues and bone, as well as the breakdown of fat.
  • Luteinizing Hormone (LH): stimulates male and female gonads to release sex hormones, testosterone in men and estrogens and progesterone in women.
  • Follicle-stimulating Hormone (FSH): promotes the production of male and female gametes (sperm and ova).
  • Prolactin (PRL): stimulates breast development and milk production in women.
  • Thyroid-stimulating Hormone (TSH): stimulates the thyroid to produce thyroid hormones.

Posterior Pituitary Hormones

  • Antidiuretic Hormone (ADH): helps maintain water balance by decreasing water loss in urine.
  • Oxytocin - promotes lactation, maternal behavior, social bonding, and sexual arousal.

Intermediate Pituitary Hormones

  • Melanocyte-stimulating Hormone (MSH): promotes melanin production in skin cells called melanocytes. This induces skin darkening.


  • "Acromegaly." National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 Apr. 2012, www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/acromegaly.
  • "Pituitary Gland." Hormone Health Network, Endocrine Society, www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/glands/pituitary-gland.
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Bailey, Regina. "Pituitary Gland." ThoughtCo, Aug. 19, 2021, thoughtco.com/pituitary-gland-anatomy-373226. Bailey, Regina. (2021, August 19). Pituitary Gland. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/pituitary-gland-anatomy-373226 Bailey, Regina. "Pituitary Gland." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/pituitary-gland-anatomy-373226 (accessed May 30, 2023).