The corpora lutea of pregnancy in the rat are highly dependent on the action of PRL and PRL-like hormones to hypertrophy and to produce progesterone needed for the maintenance of gestation. Two forms of the PRL receptor (PRL-R), designated as long (PRL-R(L)) and short (PRL-R(S)), have been described in rat tissues. To determine whether both forms are present in the corpus luteum during pregnancy and to examine the developmental and hormonal regulation of their expression, total RNA isolated from corpora lutea at different stages of pregnancy and from highly luteinized granulosa cells subjected to different hormonal treatments were analyzed by semiquantitative RT-PCR. Immunoblotting of luteal proteins from early and late pregnancy was also performed to determine if the pattern of PRL-R proteins follows that of PRL-R messenger RNA (mRNA) expression. In addition, the correlation between the well characterized PRL-regulated gene, 20α- hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (20α-HSD), and PRL-R gene expression was investigated during the time of luteolysis. Both PRL-RL and PRL-R(S) mRNA and protein were expressed in corpora lutea of pregnancy, with the long form being the most dominant at all stages. Whereas no changes in mRNA level of either PRL-R(L) or PRL-R(S) were found until day 20 of gestation, a profound decline in PRL-R mRNA and protein for both receptor types occurred at the end of pregnancy. This drop in PRL-R expression was accompanied by a sharp and abrupt expression of 20(α-HSD mRNA. Studies performed in vivo and in luteinized cells in culture indicate that PRL can up-regulate the expression of the PRL-R(L) mRNA, an effect prevented by the tyrosine kinase inhibitor, genistein. PRL-R(L) mRNA was also selectively increased by cAMP. In summary, the results of this investigation have established that: 1) the corpus luteum of pregnancy expresses both the short and long forms of the PRL-R with the long form being more abundant: 2) the mRNA for both forms of the PRL-R remains at constant levels throughout pregnancy but drops before parturition; 3) the decline in PRL-R mRNA at the end of pregnancy is accompanied by a dramatic rise in 20α-HSD; 4) PRL is able to increase the expression of PRL- R mRNA; and that 5) both A kinase and tyrosine kinase mediated pathways appear to participate in the up-regulatory mechanism involved in PRL-R mRNA expression.
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