Prolactin: A Hormone at the Crossroads of Neuroimmunoendocrinology


Current address: Royal North Shore Hospital, Kolling Institute of Medical Research, St Leonard NSW 2065 Australia.

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Abstract: Prolactin (PRL), secreted by the pituitary, decidua, and lymphoid cells, has been shown to have a regulatory role in reproduction, immune function, and cell growth in mammals. The effects of PRL are mediated by a membrane-bound receptor that is a member of the superfamily of cytokine receptors. Formation of a trimer, consisting of one molecule of ligand and two molecules of receptor, appears to be a necessary prerequisite for biological activity. The function of these receptors is mediated, at least in part, by two families of signaling molecules: Janus tyrosine kinases (JAKs) and signal transducers and activators of transcription (STATs). To study these receptors, we have used two approaches: mutational analysis of their cytoplasmic domains coupled with functional tests and inactivation (knockout) of the receptor gene by homologous recombination in mice. We have produced mice by gene targeting in embryonic stem cells carrying a germline null mutation of the prolactin receptor gene. Heterozygous (+/-) females show almost complete failure to lactate, following their first, but not subsequent pregnancies. Homozygous (-/-) females are infertile as a result of multiple reproductive abnormalities, including ovulation of premiotic oocytes, reduced fertilization of oocytes, reduced preimplantation oocyte development, lack of embryo implantation, and the absence of pseudopregnancy. Half of the homozygous males are infertile or show reduced fertility. In view of the widespread distribution of PRL receptors, other phenotypes including those on the immune system, are currently being evaluated in -/- animals. This study establishes the prolactin receptor as a key regulator of mammalian reproduction and provides the first total ablation model to further study the role of the prolactin receptor and its ligands.