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Stress. 2002 Dec;5(4):249-57.

The brain prolactin system: involvement in stress response adaptations in lactation.

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University of Regensburg, Institute of Zoology, Universitätsstr 31, Germany.


This review focuses on prolactin as a potential candidate for the regulation of emotional and neuroendocrine stress responses in the brain. In particular, we summarise evidence for a brain prolactin receptor-mediated anxiolytic action both in female and male rats, and for inhibitory actions on the reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the neurohypophysial oxytocin system. These physiological functions of the brain prolactin system are especially relevant in the peripartum period, as an attenuation of behavioural and neuroendocrine stress responses has been described during pregnancy and lactation. At this time, there is an increase in brain prolactin receptor expression and binding, and an increase in hypothalamic prolactin gene expression. In the absence of a selective prolactin receptor antagonist, complementary approaches including chronic intracerebral infusion of prolactin, and antisense targeting of the long form of the brain prolactin receptor were used to investigate the actions of prolactin. The hypothesis of a brain prolactin system activated in the peripartum period which contributes to the adaptive changes in stress responsiveness in order to support reproductive functions is strongly emphasised.

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