Differential regulation of prolactin release and lactotrope proliferation during pregnancy, lactation and the estrous cycle

Ping Yin, Jun Arita*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


The proestrous surge of prolactin (PRL) secretion and subsequent proliferation of lactotropes at estrus have been suggested to be induced by a common hypothalamic hormone. We investigated changes in lactotrope proliferation at other reproductive stages of female rats when PRL secretion was stimulated. To assess proliferative activity of lactotropes, incorporation of 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU) into DNA was measured by double immunostaining for PRL and BrdU. BrdU-labeling indices, determined by BrdU injections at 10.00 h, revealed low levels of proliferative activity of lactotropes at the reproductive stages including diestrus, days 6 and 13 of pregnancy, and day 6 of lactation while high levels were detected on estrus and the day of parturition. When BrdU-labeling indices were determined at 3- hour intervals through day 6 of pregnancy to find an increase in lactotrope proliferation which might occur at times other than 10.00 h, proliferative activity of lactotropes remained at low levels with a slight increase in the afternoon. Such a diurnal change as observed in early pregnancy was not detected on day 13 of pregnancy. In contrast, short-interval determinations of BrdU-labeling indices during a period from day 20 of pregnancy to day 2 of lactation revealed a marked increase in proliferative activity on the day of parturition with a peak at 18.00 h, which was comparable to that observed at estrus. To investigate involvement of ovarian steroids in suppression of lactotrope proliferation as observed during early pregnancy and lactation, ovariectomized and pup-removed lactating rats were given one of treatment combinations of estradiol and suckling. In pup-removed lactating rats, estradiol treatment alone induced neither a PRL surge nor an increase in BrdU-labeling indices. Suckling stimuli, which were effective in increasing serum PRL concentrations irrespective of estradiol treatment, elicited a marked increase in BrdU-labeling indices in the presence of estradiol but not in its absence. These results suggest that proliferative activity of rat lactotropes does not necessarily correlate with PRL secretion during pregnancy and lactation. In contrast to PRL release, lactotrope proliferation requires both a hypophysiotropic stimulatory input from the hypothalamus and a sensitizing action of estradiol, an observation which may account for the fact that proliferation does not occur during pregnancy and lactation in spite of elevated PRL release. Copyright (C) 2000 S. Karger AG, Basel.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)72-79
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000


  • Cell proliferation
  • Estradiol
  • Lactation
  • Lactotrope
  • Pregnancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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