In 1902, William Bayliss and Ernest Starling were studying how the nervous system controls the process of digestion. It was known that the pancreas secreted digestive juices in response to the passage of food (chyme) through the pyloric sphincter into the duodenum. They discovered (by cutting all the nerves to the pancreas in their experimental animals) that this process was not, in fact, governed by the nervous system. They determined that a substance secreted by the intestinal lining stimulates the pancreas after being transported via the bloodstream. They named this intestinal secretion secretin. Secretin was the first such "chemical messenger" identified. This type of substance is now called a hormone, a term coined by Bayliss in 1905.
Secretin is initially synthesized as a 120 amino acid precursor protein known as prosecretin. This precursor contains an N-terminal signal peptide, spacer, secretin itself (residues 28–54), and a 72-amino acid C-terminal peptide.
Secretin is synthesized in cytoplasmic secretory granules of S-cells, which are found mainly in the mucosa of the duodenum, and in smaller numbers in the jejunum of the small intestine.
Secretin is released into circulation and/or intestinal lumen in response to low duodenal pH that ranges between 2 and 4.5 depending on species. Also, the secretion of secretin is increased by the products of protein digestion bathing the mucosa of the upper small intestine.
The acidity is due to hydrochloric acid in the chyme that enters the duodenum from the stomach via the pyloric sphincter. Secretin targets the pancreas, which causes the organ to secrete a bicarbonate-rich fluid that flows into the intestine. Bicarbonate ion is a base that neutralizes the acid, thus establishing a pH favorable to the action of other digestive enzymes in the small intestine and preventing acid burns. Other factors are involved in the release of secretin such as bile salts and fatty acids, which result in additional bicarbonates being added to the small intestine. Secretin release is inhibited by H2 antagonists, which reduce gastric acid secretion. As a result, if the pH in the duodenum increases above 4.5, secretin cannot be released.
Secretin increases watery bicarbonate solution from pancreatic and bile duct epithelium. Pancreatic centroacinar cells have secretin receptors in their plasma membrane. As secretin binds to these receptors, it stimulates adenylate cyclase activity and converts ATP to cyclic AMP. Cyclic AMP acts as second messenger in intracellular signal transduction and leads to increase in release of watery carbonate. It is known to promote the normal growth and maintenance of the pancreas.
Secretin has been widely used in medical field especially in pancreatic functioning test because it increases pancreatic secretions. Secretin is either injected or given through a tube that is inserted through nose, stomach then duodenum. This test can provide information about whether there are any abnormalities in pancreas which can be gastrinoma, pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer.
Secretin has been proposed as a possible treatment for autism based on a hypothetical gut-brain connection; as yet there is no evidence to support it as effective.
Secretin is found in the magnocellular neurons of the paraventricular and supraoptic nuclei of the hypothalamus and along the neurohypophysial tract to neurohypophysis. During increased osmolality, it is released from the posterior pituitary. In the hypothalamus, it activates vasopressin release. It is also needed to carry out the central effects of angiotensin II. In the absence of secretin or its receptor in the gene knockout animals, central injection of angiotensin II was unable to stimulate water intake and vasopressin release.
It has been suggested that abnormalities in such secretin release could explain the abnormalities underlying type D syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone hypersecretion (SIADH). In these individuals, vasopressin release and response are normal, although abnormal renal expression, translocation of aquaporin 2, or both are found. It has been suggested that "Secretin as a neurosecretory hormone from the posterior pituitary, therefore, could be the long-sought vasopressin independent mechanism to solve the riddle that has puzzled clinicians and physiologists for decades."
Secretin and its receptor are found in discrete nuclei of the hypothalamus, including the paraventricular nucleus and the arcuate nucleus, which are the primary brain sites for regulating body energy homeostasis. It was found that both central and peripheral injection of Sct reduce food intake in mouse, indicating an anorectic role of the peptide. This function of the peptide is mediated by the central melanocortin system.
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