Autocrine vs Paracrine vs Endocrine: What are the Differences?

In this quick easy lesson, we explain the differences between autocrine, paracrine, juxtacrine, and endocrine signaling, the functions of these types of intercellular signaling, examples of autocrine, paracrine, juxtacrine, and endocrine, as well as mnemonic tips to learn them easily. Let’s go!

Autocrine vs Paracrine vs Juxtacrine vs Endocrine Signaling: What are the differences? Read more below to learn about these different types of chemical intercellular signaling, and of course, learn why we put this gorgeous muscle man picture up here. 😀

What are the differences between autocrine, paracrine, and endocrine signaling?

Autocrine Vs Paracrine Vs Endocrine Vs Juxtacrine

Forms of Chemical Intercellular Signaling: Autocrine vs Endocrine vs Paracrine Signaling; Credit: Wikimedia Commons

1. Autocrine Signaling and Autocrine Hormones:

Autocrine signaling is self-signaling, where a single signaling cell releases and receives a hormone signal to itself. Autocrine signaling can also be seen in a group. The cells must be identical adjacent signaling cells, and each cell receive a strong autocrine signal, which amplifies the signaling.  Please note that cells in autocrine signaling are identical types.

Mnemonic Memory Learning Aid: Autocrine = Self

Autocrine vs Paracrine vs Endocrine Signaling; Can you see the differences? Autocrine to self. Paracrine to local nearby cell. Endocrine to far away cell.
What type of signaling involves self-signaling? (Easy)
Autocrine signaling
Paracrine signaling
Endocrine signaling

2. Paracrine Signaling and Paracrine Hormones

Paracrine signaling is “near” signaling. Paracrine signaling cells secrete local mediators that affect surrounding cells in the direct immediate environment. Paracrine is local, so signaling molecules are destroyed rapidly if not taken up by the local target cells.

Examples of Paracrine Signaling are blood clotting factors and nitric oxide. This makes sense because we only want blood clotting factors to heal a cut at the local site and not travel to other sites in the body that don’t need it.

Nitric oxide is another example of paracrine signaling molecule. Acetylcholine is released by activated nerve terminals in blood vessel walls. Endothelial cells lining the blood vessels take up the acetylcholine, which activate Nitric Oxide synthase. Nitric oxide synthase catalyzes the reaction of arginine to nitric oxide, released across the membranes. Paracrine signaling occurs here with nitric oxide diffusing out of the endothelial cells and entering the smooth muscle cells, which activates guanylyl cyclase to make cyclic GMP or cGMP. As a result of this paracrine signaling, the cGMP activates rapid relaxation in the smooth muscle, enhancing blood flow.

A running girl? We need blood flow through our skeletal muscles and not our smooth muscles. Nitric oxide through paracrine signaling causes rapid relaxation of smooth muscle.

Main Takeaway: Nitric Oxide = Example of Pracrine Signaling

Nitric Oxide’s Function: Acetylcholine Released from Nerves –> Activates Nitric Oxide Synthase –> Nitric Oxide Released from Endothelial Cells (Start of Paracrine Signaling) –>  Diffuse into Smooth Muscles –> Activates Guanylyl Cyclase to Relax Smooth Muscle –>  Increase in Blood Flow

Paracrine Signaling can also occur via Gap junctions

In Paracrine signaling, signaling can occur via gap junctions made up of connexin proteins. This serves as communication channel among adjacent local cells. A good example of paracrine signaling via gap junctions is the motility of peristalsis as food bolus flows down the esophagus.

Mnemonic Memory Learning Aid: Para= close by = Local Signaling

Baby eating food. Peristalsis of esophagus in action! Peristalsis signalled by gap junctions and paracrine signaling.
What aids paracrine signaling for the motility of food down your esophagus? (Easy)
Gap junctions
Tight junctions
Para junctions
Delta and Notch Junctions
Choose the correct signaling pathway for nitric oxide involved in blood clotting for paracrine signaling.
Endothelial cells release nitric oxide that diffuse into smooth muscle cells and activate guanylyl cyclase, which relaxes the smooth muscle.
Smooth muscle cells release nitric oxide that diffuse into endothelial cells and activate guanylyl cyclase, which relaxes the endothelial lining.
Endothelial cells release nitric oxide that diffuse into smooth muscle cells and activate GTP, which relaxes the smooth muscle.
Smooth muscle cells release nitric oxide that diffuse into endothelial cells and activate GTP, which relaxes the endothelial lining.
Endothelial cells release nitric oxide that diffuse into smooth muscle cells and activate cGTP, which relaxes the smooth muscle.
Smooth muscle cells release nitric oxide that diffuse into endothelial cells and activate cGTP, which relaxes the endothelial lining.

3. Endocrine Signaling and Endocrine Hormones

Unlike autocrine and paracrine hormones, endocrine hormones are secreted into the blood stream and act on distant target cells, not self or local cells. Endocrine signaling, in comparison to autocrine and paracrine, is also relatively slower because it relies on blood flow.

Examples of endocrine signaling include estrogen and testosterone.

Mnemonic Memory Learning Aid: Endo = Internal = Goes to Internal Organs through the BLOOD

Example of Endocrine Signaling: Releasing hormone testosterone – hello beautiful abs! 😉
Arnold S. is hitting puberty. His voice is now deep and manly, and he’s gained a couple of inches just last summer. What type of signaling is likely in action and responsible for his puberty changes?
Endocrine signaling
Paracrine signaling
Autocrine signaling
Juxtracrine signaling

4. What is the difference between paracrine and juxtacrine signaling? Paracrine vs Juxtacrine

Paracrine vs Junxtacrine Signals: Paracrine signals are released locally and diffuse to act on nearby tissues and cells. Juxtacrine similarly to paracrine signals also acts on nearby tissues and cells, but the main difference in juxtacrine signalling is that cells releasing juxtacrine signals REQUIRE physical contact with the cell that they are acting upon.

Juxtacrine = NEEDS Physical Contact between cell and cell (Example: Notch and Delta during embryogenesis)

Notice how these two cells are in contact with another. Delta and Notch signaling is an example of Paracrine signaling! Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
What is unique about Juxtacrine signaling?
Juxtacrine signaling requires physical contact between cells.
Juxtacrine signaling requires Notch, Delta, and gap junctions between cells.
Juxtacrine signaling is faster than autocrine signaling.
Juxtracrine signaling is involved in peristalsis.

Summary of Differences between Autocrine, Paracrine, and Endocrine Hormones/Signaling

There are two main differences between autocrine, paracrine, and endocrine signaling: location and speed.

In terms of location: Autocrine is self. Paracrine is local. Endocrine generally affects cells farther away, more distantly.

In terms of speed: Autocrine is fastest. Paracrine is fast. Endocrine is relatively slow compared to autocrine and paracrine signaling.

Which type of signaling is the fastest?
Autocrine signaling
Paracrine signaling
Endocrine signaling
Juxtracrine signaling

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33 replies »

  1. Perfect timing for my class and perfect abs too!😍❤️ Just started the endocrine unit. Thanks for sharing your awesome article!

    Liked by 2 people

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