Prolactin-secreting adenomas, or prolactinomas, cause hypogonadism, osteoporosis, and infertility. Although dopamine agonists (DAs) are used clinically to treat prolactinoma and reduce prolactin secretion via cAMP inhibition, the precise mechanism by which DAs inhibit lactotrope proliferation has not been defined. In this study, we report that phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) signals through AKT and mTOR to drive proliferation of pituitary somatolactotrope GH4T2 cells. We demonstrate that the DA cabergoline reduces activity of the mTOR effector s6K and diminishes GH4T2 cell proliferation primarily via activation of the long isoform of the dopamine D2 receptor (D2R). Dysfunctional D2R-mediated signaling and/or downregulated D2R expression is thought be the primary mechanism of DA resistance, which is observed in 10% to 20% of prolactinoma tumors. Dopamine-mediated D2R activation results in ERK stimulation and PI3K inhibition, suggesting that these two pathways act in an inverse manner to maintain lactotrope homeostasis. In this study, we found that ERK1/2-mediated prolactin transcription is inhibited by PI3K/CDK4-driven cell cycle progression, emphasizing that the ERK and PI3K signaling pathways oppose one another in lactotrope cells under homeostatic conditions. Lastly, we show that both ERK1/2 and AKT are activated in prolactinoma, demonstrating that the balance of ERK and AKT is dysregulated in human prolactinoma. Our findings reveal a potential use for dual pharmacological inhibitors of ERK and AKT as an alternative treatment strategy for DA-resistant prolactinomas.
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