During lactation, there are numerous functional adaptations in the maternal brain. There is evidence that the high levels of circulating prolactin present during lactation might contribute to these adaptive changes. The present study aimed to investigate levels of functional prolactin-mediated signal transduction in the brain of lactating mice, using prolactin-induced phosphorylation of signal transducer and activator of transcription 5 (pSTAT5) as a marker, and compare these to the effect of exogenous prolactin during diestrus. On Day 7 of lactation, widespread induction of pSTAT5 was observed in numerous regions of the mouse forebrain and brainstem. In the medial preoptic nucleus, bed nuclei stria terminalis, paraventricular nucleus, and medial amygdala of the forebrain, and in the rostral periaqueductal gray, parabrachial nucleus, dorsal raphe, and the raphe obscurus nucleus of the brainstem, pSTAT5 expression was markedly increased during lactation compared with the response to exogenous prolactin during diestrus. In the anteroventral periventricular nucleus, arcuate nucleus, ventromedial nucleus, and dorsomedial nucleus, responses in lactation were comparable to diestrus. Conversely, in the area postrema of the brainstem, there was a reduction in response to prolactin, with a loss of pSTAT5 expression, during lactation. These differential responses following either acute or chronic elevations in prolactin were not accompanied by any changes in levels of prolactin receptor mRNA, when measured by in situ hybridization. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that prolactin might mediate widespread adaptive responses in the maternal brain.
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Vol. 84 • No. 4