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Neuroendocrinology. 2008;87(4):206-15. doi: 10.1159/000114643. Epub 2008 Jan 28.

Prolactin expression in the sheep brain.

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Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, Oreg. 97201-3098, USA.


Accumulating evidence in rodents suggests that a prolactin locally synthesized and released within the brain can act together with that taken up from the circulation to modulate neuroendocrine responses. The present study was designed to identify the regional patterns of prolactin expression in the adult and developing sheep brain. Specifically, we tested the hypothesis that prolactin is expressed in regions of the adult and fetal sheep brain that are critical in the development of neuroendocrine homeostatic and behavioral functions. The expression of prolactin protein in sheep brain was demonstrated by Western blot analysis and brain prolactin mRNA was detected and sequenced using RT-PCR. In situ hybridization histochemistry revealed that prolactin mRNA was expressed in the medial preoptic area, periventricular preoptic nucleus, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, and in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus, particularly the ventral region. The neuroanatomical distribution of prolactin mRNA was best visualized in the fetus and prolactin-immunoreactive neurons could also be identified in late gestation fetuses. Brain prolactin mRNA was expressed as early as day 60 of gestation and increased as the fetus aged and peaked at day 135 (term = 147 days). Prolactin mRNA expression did not exhibit a sex difference in the preoptic area, but in the amygdala prolactin mRNA was significantly higher in females than in males at day 100 of gestation. We conclude that prolactin expressed in adult and fetal sheep brain could be involved in neurodevelopment and/or modulation of the neuroendocrine stress axis, although it is too early to rule out other possibilities given the diverse actions that have been attributed to prolactin.

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