Plasticity of the prolactin (PRL) axis: mechanisms underlying regulation of output in female mice
Le Tissier PR., Hodson DJ., Martin AO., Romano N., Mollard P.
The output of prolactin (PRL) is highly dynamic with dramatic changes in its secretion from the anterior pituitary gland depending on prevailing physiological status. In adult female mice, there are three distinct phases of output and each of these is related to the functions of PRL at specific stages of reproduction. Recent studies of the changes in the regulation of PRL during its period of maximum output, lactation, have shown alterations at both the level of the anterior pituitary and hypothalamus. The PRL-secreting cells of the anterior pituitary are organised into a homotypic network in virgin animals, facilitating coordinated bouts of activity between interconnected PRL cells. During lactation, coordinated activity increases due to the changes in structural connectivity, and this drives large elevations in PRL secretion. Surprisingly, these changes in connectivity are maintained after weaning, despite reversion of PRL output to that of virgin animals, and result in an augmented output of hormone during a second lactation. At the level of the hypothalamus, tuberoinfundibular dopamine (TIDA) neurons, the major inhibitors of PRL secretion, have unexpectedly been shown to remain responsive to PRL during lactation. However, there is an uncoupling between TIDA neuron firing and dopamine secretion, with a potential switch to enkephalin release. Such a process may reinforce hormone secretion through dual disinhibition and stimulation of PRL cell activity. Thus, integration of signalling along the hypothalamo-pituitary axis is responsible for increased secretory output of PRL cells during lactation, as well as allowing the system to anticipate future demands.