Pituitary-Adrenal System

  • Don H. Nelson
Part of the People and Ideas book series (PEOPL)


The development of our knowledge of the pituitary-adrenal system had its earliest beginnings in the observations of a distinguished London physician, Thomas Addison (1793–1860). In a search for the cause of pernicious anemia, he read a paper to the South London Medical Society entitled “On anemia: disease of the suprarenal capsules.” He described the symptoms of anemia and disease of the suprarenals, which he thought must be related to the anemia, and called the disease “melasma suprarenale.” This initial report was followed some six years later by the publication of Addison’s classic monograph describing disease of the suprarenal capsules. Five of the eleven patients he described had bilateral tuberculosis, others showed evidence of metastatic carcinoma, and one was atrophic with fibrotic changes (Fig. 1). He stated:

THE leading and characteristic features of the morbid state to which I would direct attention are anemia, general languor, debility, remarkable feebleness of the heart’s action, irritability of the stomach, and a peculiar change of colour in the skin occurring in connection with the diseased condition of the suprarenal capsules.


Adrenal Gland Adrenal Cortex Adrenal Insufficiency Adrenal Vein ACTH Secretion 
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© American Physiological Society 1988

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  • Don H. Nelson

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