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Peptide hormone signal transduction and regulation

Rodger A Liddle, MD
Section Editor
Benjamin A Raby, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
Kathryn A Martin, MD


Signal transduction is a process by which a peptide hormone transfers specific information from the outside of the target cell to elicit a cellular response. For this to occur, the hormone (eg, secretin) exerts a signal through a specific receptor that transmits information from the extracellular compartment (eg, blood) into the cell. For example, in the gastrointestinal tract, secretin is released from cells in the duodenum and is taken by the blood to the pancreas, where it binds specific receptors on duct cells. Secretin binding to its receptor initiates a signaling cascade that generates the second messenger, cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), resulting in secretion of fluid rich in bicarbonate. The transfer of information from the outside to the inside of the cells is tightly controlled, especially in settings that are vital for cellular homeostasis.

The normal function of a cell depends upon an intact signal regulation/termination system. If this system malfunctions, the host may experience pathophysiologic consequences, such as abnormal secretion, motility, growth, or even the development of cancer [1,2].

There are three major categories of cell-surface peptide receptors that are based on their structure and signaling mechanisms. These include G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), enzyme-coupled receptors, and ion channel-coupled receptors.

The major physiologic principles of cell signaling systems will be reviewed here. Discussions of individual peptide hormones are presented separately. (See "Overview of gastrointestinal peptides in health and disease" and "Physiology of cholecystokinin" and "Physiology of gastrin".)


Despite the vast array of information communicated to a cell, the basic components of the signaling system are relatively simple (figure 1). A peptide hormone binds to a cell-surface receptor and stimulates activation of an effector system. Cell-surface receptors are capable of interacting with only certain chemical messages. The specificity of the hormone-receptor interaction is responsible for the unique cellular response.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Apr 24, 2017.
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