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Compr Physiol. 2015 Jan;5(1):255-91. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c140029.

Neuroendocrine regulation of lactation and milk production.

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Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, College of Pharmacy, University of Utah Health Sciences Center, Salt Lake City, Utah.


Prolactin (PRL) released from lactotrophs of the anterior pituitary gland in response to the suckling by the offspring is the major hormonal signal responsible for stimulation of milk synthesis in the mammary glands. PRL secretion is under chronic inhibition exerted by dopamine (DA), which is released from neurons of the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus into the hypophyseal portal vasculature. Suckling by the young activates ascending systems that decrease the release of DA from this system, resulting in enhanced responsiveness to one or more PRL-releasing hormones, such as thyrotropin-releasing hormone. The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT), synthesized in magnocellular neurons of the hypothalamic supraoptic, paraventricular, and several accessory nuclei, is responsible for contracting the myoepithelial cells of the mammary gland to produce milk ejection. Electrophysiological recordings demonstrate that shortly before each milk ejection, the entire neurosecretory OT population fires a synchronized burst of action potentials (the milk ejection burst), resulting in release of OT from nerve terminals in the neurohypophysis. Both of these neuroendocrine systems undergo alterations in late gestation that prepare them for the secretory demands of lactation, and that reduce their responsiveness to stimuli other than suckling, especially physical stressors. The demands of milk synthesis and release produce a condition of negative energy balance in the suckled mother, and, in laboratory rodents, are accompanied by a dramatic hyperphagia. The reduction in secretion of the adipocyte hormone, leptin, a hallmark of negative energy balance, may be an important endocrine signal to hypothalamic systems that integrate lactation-associated food intake with neuroendocrine systems.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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