The History of the Pituitary Gland

The earliest history of the pituitary gland dates back to Ancient Egypt (around 1365 BC) where a portrait, of the Pharaoh at the time (Akhenaten), shows signs of acromegaly. Galen, in 150 AD, was the first to describe the pituitary, and he proposed that its role was to drain the phlegm from the brain to the nasopharynx.

In the early 18th century, De Haen described amenorrhoea in a patient with a pituitary tumour. It was in 1742 that Joseph Lieutaud discovered the pituitary-portal blood system, known today as the hypothalamo-hypophysial axis. In 1772, Saucerotte was the first to describe acromegaly. In 1794, Frank distinguished diabetes insipidus from diabetes mellitus. Rathke described the formation of the gland in 1838. In 1887, Minkowski was the first to link the expansion of the pituitary gland to a number of clinical symptoms. Within a few years it was accepted that it was the anatomical growth of the gland that produced the symptoms.

In 1892, Vassale and Sacchi showed that by removing the pituitary gland (hypophysectomy) the water and mineral metabolism of the body were affected. In the same year, Massalongo attributed acromegaly to hyperfunction of the pituitary. The following year, Caton and Paul attempted surgical treatment to relieve the pressure from a pituitary tumour. In 1907, Schloffer became the first to operate on the pituitary via the nasal route.

In 1909, Aschner showed that a hypophysectomy in a growing animal caused dwarfism. Cushing and his team made the first experimental link between the pituitary and the reproductive organs in 1910.

Glinski described post-partum necrosis of the pituitary gland in 1914. The following year Simmonds described pituitary cachexia.