Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
Adrenocorticotropic hormone (also known as "ACTH") is a pituitary hormone. A hormone is a chemical produced by a gland. The pituitary gland, located below the brain, secretes (releases) several hormones that control other glands which regulate growth and metabolism. ACTH's principal function is to stimulate the cortex (outer layer) of the adrenal glands (located near the kidneys) to secrete a group of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoid hormones control the body's use of sugar and also help regulate biological functions during stressful moments.
The properties of ACTH were first investigated in the 1930s. In 1933 research groups headed by Canadian biochemist James Collip, American biologist Herbert Evans (1881-1971), and Argentine physiologist Bemardo Houssay (1887-1971) used pituitary extracts to stimulate the adrenal cortex (the center of the adrenal glands). American biochemist Choh Hao Li was one of several scientists who isolated ACTH in 1943 and synthesized it in 1963.
Today, ACTH is often prescribed to reduce inflammation (tenderness and swelling caused by infection, injury, or illness) and relieve pain. This use of ACTH was first studied by American medical researchers Philip Hench (1896-1965) and Edward Kendall (1886-1972), who were looking for an effective treatment for arthritis. During World War II (1939-1945) Hench headed the first program to mass-produce ACTH for medical use. In 1948 and 1949 Hench and another colleague were the first researchers to use ACTH successfully in arthritic patients. Hench and Kendall received the 1950 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their achievement.
ACTH is commonly used to reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis (a disabling inflammation of joints and tissues), ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease), and some types of hepatitis (an inflammatory disorder of the liver).