The unicellular ciliate, Tetrahymena has receptors for hormones of the higher ranked animals, these hormones (e.g. insulin, triiodothyronine, ACTH, histamine, etc.) are also produced by it and it has signal pathways and second messengers for signal transmission. These components are chemically and functionally very similar to that of mammalian ones. The exogenously given hormones regulate different functions, as movement, phagocytosis, chemotaxis, cell growth, secretion, excretion and the cells’ own hormone production. The receptors are extremely sensitive, certain hormones are sensed (and response is provoked) at 10−21 M concentration, which makes likely that the function could work by the effect of hormones produced by the Tetrahymena itself. The signal reception is selective, it can differentiate between closely related hormones. The review is listing the hormones produced by the Tetrahymena, the receptors which can receive signals and the signal pathways and second messengers as well, as the known effects of mammalian hormones to the life functions of Tetrahymena. The possible and justified role of hormonal system in the Tetrahymena as a single cell and inside the Tetrahymena population, as a community is discussed. The unicellular hormonal system and mammalian endocrine system are compared and evolutionary conclusions are drawn.
The thymus develops from an endocrine area of the foregut, and retains the ancient potencies of this region. However, later it is populated by bone marrow originated lymphatic elements and forms a combined organ, which is a central part of the immune system as well as an influential element of the endocrine orchestra. Thymus produces self-hormones (thymulin, thymosin, thymopentin, and thymus humoral factor), which are participating in the regulation of immune cell transformation and selection, and also synthesizes hormones similar to that of the other endocrine glands such as melatonin, neuropeptides, and insulin, which are transported by the immune cells to the sites of requests (packed transport). Thymic (epithelial and immune) cells also have receptors for hormones which regulate them. This combined organ, which is continuously changing from birth to senescence seems to be a pacemaker of life. This function is basically regulated by the selection of self-responsive thymocytes as their complete destruction helps the development (up to puberty) and their gradual release in case of weakened control (after puberty) causes the erosion of cells and intercellular material, named aging. This means that during aging, self-destructive and non-protective immune activities are manifested under the guidance of the involuting thymus, causing the continuous irritation of cells and organs. Possibly the pineal body is the main regulator of the pacemaker, the neonatal removal of which results in atrophy of thymus and wasting disease and its later corrosion causes the insufficiency of thymus. The co-involution of pineal and thymus could determine the aging and the time of death without external intervention; however, external factors can negatively influence both of them.