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Anterior Pituitary Gland

Discover the fascinating role of the anterior pituitary gland and its impact on hormone regulation, growth, and overall well-being.

USMLE Guide: Anterior Pituitary Gland


The anterior pituitary gland, also known as the adenohypophysis, is a small, pea-sized structure located at the base of the brain. It plays a vital role in the regulation of various hormones within the body, making it an important topic for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This guide aims to provide a concise overview of the essential information regarding the anterior pituitary gland.


The anterior pituitary gland is situated in the sella turcica, a bony depression of the sphenoid bone. It is connected to the hypothalamus by a network of blood vessels known as the hypophyseal portal system. The gland is composed of different cell types, each responsible for the production and release of specific hormones.


The anterior pituitary gland secretes several hormones, including:

  1. Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH): Stimulates the production and release of cortisol by the adrenal glands.
  2. Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH): Controls the synthesis and secretion of thyroid hormones by the thyroid gland.
  3. Growth Hormone (GH): Regulates growth, metabolism, and body composition.
  4. Prolactin (PRL): Stimulates breast milk production in females.
  5. Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH): Control reproductive functions such as sperm and egg production, as well as sex hormone secretion.
  6. Melanocyte-Stimulating Hormone (MSH): Regulates skin pigmentation.


The anterior pituitary gland is under the control of the hypothalamus, which releases specific hormones to stimulate or inhibit the secretion of anterior pituitary hormones. These hormones include:

  1. Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH): Stimulates the release of ACTH.
  2. Thyrotropin-Releasing Hormone (TRH): Promotes the secretion of TSH.
  3. Growth Hormone-Releasing Hormone (GHRH): Triggers the release of GH.
  4. Prolactin-Inhibiting Hormone (PIH): Suppresses the secretion of PRL.
  5. Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH): Controls the release of FSH and LH.

Negative feedback loops also play a significant role in regulating anterior pituitary hormone secretion. For example, elevated levels of cortisol inhibit the secretion of CRH and ACTH, thereby reducing cortisol production.

Clinical Significance

Dysfunction of the anterior pituitary gland can lead to various disorders, such as:

  1. Acromegaly: Excess production of GH in adulthood, resulting in enlarged hands, feet, and facial features.
  2. Hypopituitarism: Insufficient secretion of one or more anterior pituitary hormones, causing hormonal deficiencies.
  3. Prolactinoma: A benign tumor that causes excessive PRL secretion, leading to irregular menstrual periods and milk production in non-pregnant females.
  4. Cushing's Syndrome: Overproduction of cortisol, often due to an ACTH-secreting tumor, resulting in weight gain, high blood pressure, and muscle weakness.


Understanding the anatomy, hormones, regulation, and clinical significance of the anterior pituitary gland is essential for medical students preparing for the USMLE. Mastery of this topic will enable physicians to diagnose and manage various endocrine disorders associated with the anterior pituitary gland.

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