Question Video: Describing the Primary Function of Glucocorticoid Hormones Biology

Which of the following best describes the primary function of hormones belonging to the glucocorticoids group? [A] To regulate the development of sexual organs and characteristics. [B] To increase the activity of the immune system and initiate an inflammatory response. [C] To respond to signals from the sympathetic nervous system and decrease the heart rate. [D] To regulate the metabolism of glucose in the body to maintain normal concentrations of blood glucose.

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Video Transcript

Which of the following best describes the primary function of hormones belonging to the glucocorticoids group? To regulate the development of sexual organs and characteristics. To increase the activity of the immune system and initiate an inflammatory response. To respond to signals from the sympathetic nervous system and decrease the heart rate. Or to regulate the metabolism of glucose in the body to maintain normal concentrations of blood glucose.

Let’s remove these options for now and dive into the exciting world of glucocorticoid hormones. You may recall that hormones are chemical messengers which travel throughout an organism’s body, often in the blood, to maintain homeostasis and regulate behavior. On top of our kidneys, we have a pair of glands called the adrenal glands. Because of their location, they look a bit like little hats. The adrenal glands release many different hormones, including one particular group called glucocorticoids.

The word glucocorticoid sounds really complicated. But when we break it down, it actually gives us some useful information about what these hormones are and what they do. Gluco- comes from the word glucose, so that tells us that their function has something to do with glucose. The “cort” part tells us that they’re released by the cortex of the adrenal glands. And the -oid at the end tells us that they’re steroid hormones. But we don’t need to worry too much about that for this question. Now, we’ve already said that the function of glucocorticoids involves glucose, and what they actually do is help to regulate the levels of glucose in the blood. The most important example of a glucocorticoid in the human body is cortisol; it’s essential to life.

When the body is under stress, it requires more energy to cope. This causes the blood glucose concentration to fall, as glucose is the primary source of energy. If it falls below normal levels, cortisol is released from the cortex of the adrenal glands into the blood. It travels to target cells, such as fat cells and muscle cells, and alters their metabolism, causing fats and proteins to be broken down into metabolites. These metabolites then move into the blood, where they’re transported throughout the body and in particular are absorbed by cells of the liver.

Here, the metabolites are converted into glucose, which is then released into the blood. This process is called gluconeogenesis, and it helps to bring the blood glucose concentration back up to normal levels. This is important because if there’s not enough glucose in the bloodstream, cells won’t be able to break it down to release energy in the process of cellular respiration. Cortisol has many other functions. For example, it reduces inflammatory responses, maintains our blood pressure, and even regulates our sleep cycle.

Now, let’s return to our multiple-choice options and determine which one is correct. To regulate the development of sexual organs and characteristics. The adrenal cortex releases small volumes of sex hormones, such as androgens and estrogens, which are responsible for this. But glucocorticoids are not involved, so this statement is incorrect. To increase the activity of the immune system and initiate an inflammatory response. Glucocorticoids actually have the opposite role. They reduce inflammation, so this statement is also incorrect.

To respond to signals from the sympathetic nervous system and decrease the heart rate. In actual fact, signals from the sympathetic nervous system cause adrenaline and noradrenaline to be released, which act to increase the heart rate. Again, glucocorticoids are not involved, so this statement is incorrect too. To regulate the metabolism of glucose in the body to maintain normal concentrations of blood glucose. As we’ve talked about, glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, act to restore blood glucose levels if they fall too low. Therefore, this statement must be correct.

We have therefore determined that the primary function of hormones belonging to the glucocorticoids group is to regulate the metabolism of glucose in the body to maintain normal concentrations of blood glucose.

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