A hormone is any member of a class of signaling molecules produced by glands in multicellular organisms that are transported by the circulatory system to target distant organs to regulate physiology and behaviour. Hormones have diverse chemical structures, mainly of 3 classes: eicosanoids, steroids, and amino acid derivatives (amines, peptides, and proteins). The glands that secrete hormones comprise the endocrine signaling system. The term hormone is sometimes extended to include chemicals produced by cells that affect the same cell (autocrine or intracrine signalling) or nearby cells (paracrine signalling).
Hormones are used to communicate between organs and tissues to regulate physiological and behavioral activities, such as digestion, metabolism, respiration, tissue function, sensory perception, sleep, excretion, lactation, stress, growth and development, movement, reproduction, and mood. Hormones affect distant cells by binding to specific receptor proteins in the target cell resulting in a change in cell function. When a hormone binds to the receptor, it results in the activation of a signal transduction pathway. This may lead to cell type-specific responses that include rapid non-genomic effects or slower genomic responses where the hormones acting through their receptors activate gene transcription resulting in increased expression of target proteins. Amino acid–based hormones (amines and peptide or protein hormones) are water-soluble and act on the surface of target cells via second messengers; steroid hormones, being lipid-soluble, move through the plasma membranes of target cells (both cytoplasmic and nuclear) to act within their nuclei.
Hormone synthesis may occur in specific tissues of endocrine glands or in other specialized cells. Hormone synthesis occurs in response to specific biochemical signals induced by a wide range of regulatory systems. For instance, ionized calcium concentration affects PTH synthesis, whereas glucose concentration affects insulin synthesis. Regulation of hormone synthesis of gonadal hormones, adrenocortical hormones, and thyroid hormones is often dependent on complex sets of direct influence and feedback interactions involving the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA), -gonadal (HPG), and -thyroid (HPT) axes.