Endocrine System: Ductless Glands

In animals, there are two regulatory systems which help in homeostasis; they are the endocrine system and the nervous system. Each organ system has its own mode of regulation, for instance, the nervous system generates impulses for regulation whereas the endocrine system operates with endocrine glands that secrete chemicals called hormones. Let’s learn about various endocrine glands – parathyroid, thymus, adrenal, pancreas, testis, and ovary.

Table of Contents:

Ductless Glands

Endocrine glands are also known as the ductless glands because of the fact that their secretions are released directly into the blood, not to any tubes or ducts. Hypothalamus, Pituitary gland, Pineal body, Thyroid, Parathyroid, Adrenal glands, Pancreas, and Gonads are the major glands which make up the human endocrine system.

  • Hypothalamus
  • Gonads
  • Pituitary gland
  • Thyroid
  • Pineal body
  • Parathyroid
  • Thymus
  • Adrenal glands
  • Pancreas

In this article, we will discuss the ductless glands of the endocrine system and their functions with the help of a diagram.

Diagram of Endocrine System

Endocrine System: Ductless Glands


The pineal is a small endocrine gland present in the diencephalon region of the brain. It helps in the release of melatonin, which has an influence on our sleep patterns. This melatonin also has an influence on the melanocytes and melanotropes present in the skin. 

Pituitary and Hypothalamus

The pituitary gland is a small endocrine gland with a weight of 0.5 to 1 gram and a diameter of 1 cm. It is situated in the sphenoid bone at the base of the skull. It is connected with the hypothalamus by the hypophyseal stalk or pituitary stalk. The hypothalamus links the nervous and endocrine systems through the pituitary. 

the hypothalamus is the site of synthesis for the posterior pituitary hormones like the oxytocin and antidiuretic hormone (ADH). The anterior pituitary hormones include the growth hormone, thyroid-stimulating hormone, luteinising hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), etc. 

Parathyroid Gland

Parathyroid glands are four small glands present as pairs in each lobe of the thyroid gland. The gland produces the parathyroid hormone (PTH) which regulates the level of calcium ions (Ca2+) in the blood. PTH regulates calcium levels along with calcitonin by promoting the breaking of bones, reabsorption by the renal system and absorption of calcium ions from food. The normal bone destruction by osteoclasts in bone resorption is triggered indirectly by PTH.


The thymus gland is a lymphoid organ positioned between the two lungs behind the sternum. Structurally, it is a two-lobed gland forming a major part of the immune system. The peptide hormone called thymosine secreted by the thymus gland produces T-lymphocytes for the cell-mediated immunity and antibodies for humoral immunity. On arrival of puberty, the human thymus becomes much smaller and starts to disintegrate which in turn reduces the production of thymosins. This is why immunity in old individuals is generally weaker than immunity in infants.

Adrenal Glands

Adrenal glands are two triangular-shaped glands present at the top of each kidney. The outer cortex part secretes a hormone generally known as corticosteroids while the inner medulla produces hormones generally known as catecholamines.

Adrenal glands

Catecholamines include two types of hormones, adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine). These hormones are called emergency hormones or hormones of fight/flight because they are released commonly under stress. During emergency situations, the level of adrenaline will be high in the blood. As a result, our body becomes more alert, starts sweating, the heartbeat increases and so does the cardiac output. The rate of cellular respiration also gets increased.

Corticosteroids (corticoids) are secreted from the three layers of the adrenal cortex, namely, zona reticularis, zona fasciculata and zona glomerulosa. Glucocorticoids (e.g. cortisol) and mineralocorticoids (e.g. aldosterone) are two corticoids which help in the metabolism of carbohydrates and regulation of electrolytes in our body. In addition, cortisol produces immune responses, anti-inflammatory reactions, and stimulates RBC production. Other than corticoids, the adrenal cortex also produces a minute amount of androgen that plays a role in secondary sexual characteristics.


The pancreas acts as an endocrine as well as an exocrine gland. The endocrine part produces insulin and glucagon and helps to maintain an equilibrium of blood glucose levels. These hormones are produced by the two types of cells of the Islet of Langerhans. They are alpha cells which secrete the hormone, glucagon while the beta cells secrete the hormone, insulin. Both of these hormones contradict each other’s actions.

Glucagon results in hyperglycemia by stimulating glycogenolysis and gluconeogenesis while insulin is a hypoglycemic hormone which increases glucose uptake and utilization by stimulating glycogenesis. A person who has prolonged hyperglycemia suffers from an endocrine disorder called diabetes mellitus. Such patients are treated with insulin.


Gonads are the reproductive glands which include both male and female sex organs. The male gonad also called testes, is the primary centre which produces androgen. Testosterone is an important hormone among them. They are responsible for the secondary sexual characteristics of puberty and other hormonal regulations.

A pair of ovaries is the female gonad. They secrete two hormones namely estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen, the hormone that is synthesized by ovarian follicles, is responsible for secondary sexual characteristics during puberty. Both estrogen and progesterone together help in pregnancy and the menstrual cycle in women.

Even though hormones secreted in the body are mainly contributed by the endocrine glands; organs — such as the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, placenta etc. — also secrete hormones

Also Explore:

Difference between Nervous System and Endocrine System
Difference between Endocrine and Exocrine Glands 


Frequently Asked Questions


What are chemical messengers?

Chemical messengers are the substances involved in cell signalling that are mainly secreted from endocrine glands. Some of them are secreted by nerve endings and the cells of several other tissues also. All these chemical messengers carry certain signals to the target cells. They may be hormones or hormone­-like substances.


What are some of the hormones secreted by major endocrine glands?

Secretions of endocrine glands are called hormones. The anterior pituitary secretes growth hormone, thyroid-stimulating hormone, luteinising hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), etc. Whereas the posterior pituitary secretes hormones like oxytocin and antidiuretic hormone (ADH). The thyroid secretes T3, T4 and calcitonin. The pancreas primarily secretes insulin and glucagon.


What is a thyroid gland?

The thyroid is an endocrine gland located at the root of the neck on either side of the trachea. It secretes three hormones, namely the T4 or thyroxine, T3 and calcitonin. Tyrosine and iodine are essential for the formation of these thyroid hormones. They primarily stimulate growth in children and increase metabolic rate.

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  1. very informative . good for students

  2. Nice and well explained,, I personally enjoyed thanks