Unexpected Discovery on Hormone Secretion

A team of geneticists at the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM), directed by Dr. Jacques Drouin, made an unexpected discovery on hormone secretion. Contrary to common belief, the researchers found that pituitary cells are organized in structured networks. The scientific breakthrough was published yesterday by the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Dr. Drouin is a full professor in the Department of Biochemistry (accreditation in molecular biology) at the Université de Montréal.

The pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain, secretes the hormones that preserve the balance between all other glands of the endocrine system, which includes all hormone-producing organs.

Dr. Jacques Drouin. Image credit : University of Montreal

“Each hormone in the pituitary gland is secreted by a specific type of cells,” explains Dr. Drouin, Director of the Molecular Genetics research unit at the IRCM. “Until now, we believed that these cells were randomly distributed throughout the pituitary gland.”

By using three-dimensional imaging, the researchers discovered that the pituitary gland’s secreting cells are rather organized into highly-structured networks. Inside these networks, each cell remains in contact with other cells of the same type, so as to form continuous sheets of cells. In fact, cells of the same lineage can recognize, exchange signals and even act in concert with one another.

“We were the first to reveal this three-dimensional organization,” says Lionel Budry, graduate student in Dr. Drouin’s laboratory and first co-author of the study. “In addition to discovering the cell’s structure, we showed its importance for the development and function of the pituitary gland.”

“We studied two networks of cells: cells that modulate our responses to stress, and cells that control reproduction,” adds Dr. Drouin. “Disturbing these networks could be associated with hormone deficiencies.”

This research project was conducted in collaboration with the team of experts in three-dimensional imaging at the Université de Montpellier directed by Dr. Patrice Mollard, which includes Chrystel Lafont, who is first co-author of the article with Lionel Budry.

Research carried out at the IRCM was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Canadian Cancer Society. For more information on this discovery, please refer to the article summary published in PNAS.

About Dr. Jacques Drouin
Jacques Drouin obtained his Doctor of Science in physiology from the Université Laval. He is Full IRCM Research Professor and Director of the Molecular Genetics research unit. Dr. Drouin is a full professor in the Department of Biochemistry (accreditation in molecular biology) at the Université de Montréal. He is also associate member of the Department of Medicine (Division of Experimental Medicine), adjunct professor of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, and adjunct member of the Department of Biochemistry at McGill University. In addition, he is an elected member of the Academy of Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada.

About the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM)
Founded in 1967, the IRCM (www.ircm.qc.ca) is currently comprised of 35 research units in various fields, namely immunity and viral infections, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, cancer, neurobiology and development, systems biology and medicinal chemistry. It also houses three specialized research clinics, seven core facilities and two research platforms with state-of-the-art equipment. The IRCM employs 425 people and is an independent institution affiliated with the Université de Montréal. The IRCM clinic is associated to the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM). The IRCM also maintains a long-standing association with McGill University.

*Source: University of Montreal (Published on July 28, 2011)

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