Prolactinomas are the most frequent type of pituitary tumors, which represent 10-20% of all intracranial neoplasms in humans. Prolactinomas develop in mice lacking the prolactin receptor (PRLR), which is a member of the cytokine receptor superfamily that signals via Janus kinase-2-signal transducer and activator of transcription-5 (JAK2-STAT5) or phosphoinositide 3-kinase-Akt (PI3K-Akt) pathways to mediate changes in transcription, differentiation and proliferation. To elucidate the role of the PRLR gene in human prolactinomas, we determined the PRLR sequence in 50 DNA samples (35 leucocyte, 15 tumors) from 46 prolactinoma patients (59% males, 41% females). This identified six germline PRLR variants, which comprised four rare variants (Gly57Ser, Glu376Gln, Arg453Trp and Asn492Ile) and two low-frequency variants (Ile76Val, Ile146Leu), but no somatic variants. The rare variants, Glu376Gln and Asn492Ile, which were in complete linkage disequilibrium, and are located in the PRLR intracellular domain, occurred with significantly higher frequencies (p<0.0001) in prolactinoma patients than in 60,706 individuals of the Exome Aggregation Consortium cohort and 7,045 individuals of the Oxford Biobank. In vitro analysis of the PRLR variants demonstrated that the Asn492Ile variant, but not Glu376Gln, when compared to wild-type PRLR, increased prolactin-induced pAkt signaling (>1.3-fold, p<0.02) and proliferation (1.4-fold, p<0.02), but did not affect pSTAT5 signaling. Treatment of cells with an Akt1/2 inhibitor or everolimus, which acts on the Akt pathway, reduced Asn492Ile signaling and proliferation to wild-type levels. Thus, our results identify an association between a gain-of-function PRLR variant and prolactinomas, and reveal a new aetiology and potential therapeutic approach for these neoplasms.
Hum Mol Genet