Gastrointestinal hormones are peptides released from endocrine cells and neurons in the digestive tract. More than 30 hormone genes are currently known to be expressed in the gastrointestinal tract, which makes the gut the largest hormone producing organ in the body. Modern biology makes it feasible to conceive the hormones under five headings: The structural homology groups a majority of the hormones into nine families, each of which is assumed to originate from one ancestral gene. The individual hormone gene often has multiple phenotypes due to alternative splicing, tandem organization, or differentiated maturation of the prohormone. By a combination of these mechanisms, more than 100 different hormonally active peptides are released from the gut. Gut hormone genes are also widely expressed in cells outside the gut, some only in extraintestinal endocrine cells and neurons but others also in other cell types. The extraintestinal cells may synthesize different bioactive fragments of the same prohormone due to cell-specific processing pathways. Moreover, endocrine cells, neurons, cancer cells, and, for instance, spermatozoa release the peptides differentially (autocrine, endocrine, neurocrine, paracrine, spermiocrine secretion etc.), so the same peptide may act as a blood-borne hormone, a neurotransmitter, a local growth factor, or a fertility factor. The molecular targets of each bioactive peptide are specific G-protein coupled receptors expressed in the cell membranes of different target cells. Also the target cells of gut hormones occur widespread outside the digestive tract.
Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology: Microbial Endocrinology: the Microbiota-gut-brain Axis in Health and Disease, 2014, p. 157-175