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J Neuroendocrinol. 2001 Feb;13(2):147-57.

Photoperiodic regulation of prolactin gene expression in the Syrian hamster by a pars tuberalis-derived factor.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.


Syrian hamsters exhibit a marked seasonal variation in prolactin secretion. The aim of this study was to analyse the nature of the photoperiodic regulation of prolactin gene expression, and to define the role of melatonin and the pars tuberalis of the anterior pituitary in this process. Pituitary prolactin gene expression, restricted to the pars distalis, was increased in hamsters maintained in long daylengths (16 h : 8 h, light : dark) compared to hamsters exposed to short daylengths (8 h : 16 h, light : dark) for 8-12 weeks. Analysis of single cells by in situ hybridization showed that photoperiod had no effect on the percentage of pars distalis cells expressing prolactin mRNA, but shifted the frequency distribution of prolactin mRNA expression per cell, such that in long photoperiods a greater proportion of cells were recruited to a higher expressing population. In vitro coculture of hamster pars tuberalis fragments increased prolactin promoter-driven luciferase activity in stably transfected GH3 cells in a dose- and duration-dependent manner. Conditioned medium from hamster and ovine pars tuberalis also activated the prolactin promoter. Furthermore, basal and forskolin-stimulated conditioned medium from hamster pars tuberalis increased prolactin mRNA expression in primary cultures of pars distalis cells. Melatonin attenuated the activity of pars tuberalis-conditioned medium but had no direct effect on either prolactin mRNA expression or secretion in pars distalis cell cultures. Finally, pars tuberalis fragments from long photoperiod hamsters stimulated prolactin gene promoter activity to a greater extent than those from short photoperiod hamsters. In conclusion, this study provides the first evidence in a seasonal mammal that the synthesis of prolactin depends on photoperiodic modulation of a pars tuberalis-derived factor. Our data support further the hypothesis that seasonal modulation of prolactin gene expression depends upon a melatonin-dependent paracrine action of the pars tuberalis on pars distalis lactotrophic cells.

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