The Barrier Within: Endothelial Transport of Hormones
Hormones are involved in a plethora of processes including development and growth, metabolism, mood, and immune responses. These essential functions are dependent on the ability of the hormone to access its target tissue. In the case of endocrine hormones that are transported through the blood, this often means that the endothelium must be crossed. Many studies have shown that the concentrations of hormones and nutrients in blood can be very different from those surrounding the cells on the tissue side of the blood vessel endothelium, suggesting that transport across this barrier can be rate limiting for hormone action. This transport can be regulated by altering the surface area of the blood vessel available for diffusion through to the underlying tissue or by the permeability of the endothelium. Many hormones are known to directly or indirectly affect the endothelial barrier, thus affecting their own distribution to their target tissues. Dysfunction of the endothelial barrier is found in many diseases, particularly those associated with the metabolic syndrome. The interrelatedness of hormones may help to explain why the cluster of diseases in the metabolic syndrome occur together so frequently and suggests that treating the endothelium may ameliorate defects in more than one disease. Here, we review the structure and function of the endothelium, its contribution to the function of hormones, and its involvement in disease.