The mammalian anterior pituitary gland is a compound endocrine organ that regulates reproductive development and fitness, growth, metabolic homeostasis, the response to stress, and lactation, by actions on target organs such as the gonads, the liver, the thyroid, the adrenals, and the mammary gland. The protein and peptide hormones that control these physiological parameters are secreted by specialized pituitary cell types that derive from a common origin in the early ectoderm. Collectively, the broad physiological importance of the pituitary gland, its intriguing organogenesis, and the clinical and agricultural significance of its actions, have established pituitary development as an excellent model system for the study of the gene-regulatory cascades that guide vertebrate cell determination and differentiation. We review the transcriptional pathways that regulate the commitment of the individual pituitary cell lineages and that subsequently modulate trophic hormone gene activity in the differentiated cells of the mature gland.
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