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Reproduction. 2002 Apr;123(4):497-506.

Behavioural significance of prolactin signalling in the central nervous system during pregnancy and lactation.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology, School of Medical Sciences and Neuroscience Research Centre, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


The role of prolactin in the regulation of mammary gland development and function during pregnancy and lactation is well established. However, in addition, prolactin appears to have a much wider role in the physiology of lactation. There is widespread expression of prolactin receptors in the hypothalamus during lactation, indicative of a multi-faceted role for prolactin in regulating hypothalamic function. During pregnancy and lactation, the maternal brain undergoes structural and functional modification, allowing the establishment of appropriate behaviour to feed and nurture the offspring, to adjust to the nutritional and metabolic demands of milk production, and to maintain appropriate hormone secretion to allow milk synthesis, secretion and ejection. The coordination of such a range of neurobiological and neuroendocrine adaptations requires an endocrine signalling mechanism, capable of communicating the reproductive state to the brain. Evidence indicates that prolactin is part of this mechanism.

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