• Open Access

The Prolactin Gene: A Paradigm of Tissue-Specific Gene Regulation with Complex Temporal Transcription Dynamics


Karen Featherstone, Endocrinology and Diabetes Group, Developmental Biomedicine Research Group, AV Hill Building, Oxford Road, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PT, UK (e-mail: karen.featherstone@manchester.ac.uk).


Transcription of numerous mammalian genes is highly pulsatile, with bursts of expression occurring with variable duration and frequency. The presence of this stochastic or ‘noisy’ expression pattern has been relatively unexplored in tissue systems. The prolactin gene provides a model of tissue-specific gene regulation resulting in pulsatile transcription dynamics in both cell lines and endocrine tissues. In most cell culture models, prolactin transcription appears to be highly variable between cells, with differences in transcription pulse duration and frequency. This apparently stochastic transcription is constrained by a transcriptional refractory period, which may be related to cycles of chromatin remodelling. We propose that prolactin transcription dynamics result from the summation of oscillatory cellular inputs and by regulation through chromatin remodelling cycles. Observations of transcription dynamics in cells within pituitary tissue show reduced transcriptional heterogeneity and can be grouped into a small number of distinct patterns. Thus, it appears that the tissue environment is able to reduce transcriptional noise to enable coordinated tissue responses to environmental change. We review the current knowledge on the complex tissue-specific regulation of the prolactin gene in pituitary and extra-pituitary sites, highlighting differences between humans and rodent experimental animal models. Within this context, we describe the transcription dynamics of prolactin gene expression and how this may relate to specific processes occurring within the cell.