Recent studies have reported that reproductive experience in female rats alters prolactin (PRL) receptor gene expression in the brain as well as neural sensitivity to PRL. Given PRL's actions in nonneural tissues, that is, mammary tissue and liver, it was asked whether reproductive experience may also alter prolactin receptor (Prlr) gene expression in these tissues. Groups of age-matched female rats were generated with varying reproductive histories. Separate groups of primiparous (first lactation) and multiparous (second lactation) had mammary tissue and liver samples collected on Day 3 or 10 of lactation. A fifth group raised one litter to weaning and then resumed estrous cyclicity. This group and a final group of age-matched, virgin controls were killed on diestrus. Tissue was processed by quantitative PCR for expression rates of the long and short forms of Prlr mRNA as well as casein beta mRNA (mammary tissue only). Western blots were performed to quantify receptor protein content. Multiple lactations as well as lactation itself resulted in alterations in Prlr expression. Prlr gene expression in mammary tissue was increased in primiparous mothers compared with that in multiparous dams, whereas in the liver, Prlr expression was reduced during an initial lactation. In contrast, PRLR protein levels declined during lactation in mammary, but not hepatic, tissues. Overall, the results demonstrate that the prolactin receptor system is altered in nonneural tissues as a result of the female's reproductive history. The findings are discussed in the context of milk and bile production and PRL's possible role in breast cancer.
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Vol. 85 • No. 2