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M Soaje and RP Deis

We have recently demonstrated the existence of a neuromodulatory regulation of prolactin secretion by the opioid system showing a paradoxical opioid-induced prolactin suppression at the end of pregnancy. The aim of this study was to determine a possible interaction between the opioid system and ovarian hormones on the release of prolactin during pregnancy. Serum prolactin levels measured at 1800 h were significantly higher on days 3 and 6 of pregnancy when compared with the other days of gestation. These increases in serum prolactin were reduced significantly by naloxone (2 mg/kg) administered at 1730 h and by RU-486 (10 mg/kg) administered at 0800 h. The response induced by RU-486 was potentiated by naloxone only on day 3. On days 7, 13 and 16, prolactin secretion was not modified by RU-486 and/or naloxone treatment. In RU-486 pretreated rats, naloxone administration increased serum prolactin levels only on day 16 of pregnancy. Interestingly, progesterone treatment (0.5 mg/rat) on days 13, 14 and 15 of pregnancy prevented the high increase in serum prolactin induced by RU-486 and naloxone on day 16 of pregnancy. The progressive increase and decrease of serum progesterone concentration during pregnancy was not modified by naloxone treatment. The participation of oestrogen in the regulation of prolactin secretion by the opioid system on days 3, 16 and 19 was examined by treating these groups of rats with oestradiol benzoate or tamoxifen citrate. Oestradiol (2 micrograms/rat) significantly increased serum prolactin levels on day 3 and naloxone administration did not modify this increase. No effect was observed after oestradiol (5 micrograms/rat) and naloxone treatment on days 16 and 19 of pregnancy. Oral administration of tamoxifen (500 micrograms/kg) the previous day did not modify the serum prolactin concentration measured at 1800 h in oil-treated rats on days 3, 16 and 19 of pregnancy. The antioestrogen completely abolished the naloxone-induced prolactin secretion on day 16 in rats pretreated with RU-486 but no effect was observed on day 19. When tamoxifen was administered on days 14 and 15 of pregnancy, the high serum prolactin levels on day 19 induced by treatment with RU-486 and naloxone were significantly reduced. In conclusion, these results provide an important new insight into the existence of a dual neuromodulatory regulation of prolactin secretion by the opioid system during pregnancy. After a stimulatory action during the first days, there is a change to an inhibitory control at the end of pregnancy, starting around day 16. Moreover, the activation of the inhibitory modulation of the opioid system on prolactin secretion on days 16 and 19 of pregnancy seems to be mediated by changes in the oestrogen and progesterone action.

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M Soaje and R P Deis

Abstract

It is well known that the fall in serum progesterone concentrations during late pregnancy induces prolactin secretion in rats. On day 19 of pregnancy, administration of 10 mg of the antiprogesterone RU-486/kg induced a small but significant increase in serum prolactin. A lower dose (2 mg/kg) was not effective. Administration of naloxone (2 mg/kg) to pregnant rats on day 19 of pregnancy did not modify circulating prolactin but, after RU-486 treatment, a notable increase in serum prolactin was obtained 30 min after naloxone was given. The lack of effect of naloxone-methobromide in pregnant rats pretreated with RU-486 may indicate that the opioid-induced prolactin suppression acts centrally, most probably at the hypothalamic level. During day 21 of pregnancy, the time-course of prolactin secretion, measured at 0900, 1400, 1900 and 2200 h, was inversely correlated with circulating progesterone levels. At 0900 h, serum prolactin was very low with high serum progesterone concentrations but a significant increase in serum prolactin occurred at 2200 h; this was coincident with a significant decrease in the steroid. The stimulatory effect of naloxone on prolactin secretion was clearly dependent on the circulating progesterone level. Thus, at 1900 h of day 21, naloxone induced a significant increase in serum prolactin but, at 2200 h, the opioid antagonist dramatically enhanced the circulating level of prolactin. The serum prolactin increase induced by naloxone at 1900 h was prevented by the s.c. administration of 5 mg progesterone given 7 h earlier. Similarly, the large increase in serum prolactin levels at 1800 h on day 19 of pregnancy, after administration of RU-486 plus naloxone, was completely abolished by treatment with CB154. The lack of effect of RU-486 and naloxone on serum prolactin levels in virgin rats on the day of pro-oestrus demonstrates that the effect of naloxone on prolactin in pregnant rat is peculiar to the end of pregnancy.

In conclusion, the attenuation of the central inhibitory action of progesterone facilitates the release of prolactin which is dramatically enhanced by naloxone treatment. These results provide an important new insight into the existence of a neuromodulatory regulation of prolactin secretion by the opioid system showing a paradoxical opioid-induced prolactin suppression at the end of pregnancy.

Journal of Endocrinology (1994) 140, 97–102

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M Soaje, EG de Di Nasso and RP Deis

Evidence suggests that endogenous opioid peptides are implicated in the suckling-induced prolactin rise. We explored the role of the opioid system and the participation of ovarian hormones in the regulation of prolactin induced by the suckling stimulus at the end of pregnancy in rats with developed maternal behavior, and during lactation. Suckling for 24 h induced a significant increase in serum prolactin on day 19 of pregnancy, which was increased more than three times when naloxone (2 mg/kg s.c.) or mifepristone (2 mg/kg) was administered. The combination of naloxone and mifepristone did not increase serum prolactin more than either compound alone. Administration of tamoxifen (500 microg/kg orally) on days 14 and 15 of pregnancy completely abolished the effect of naloxone, indicating a role for estrogens in establishing this inhibitory role of opioids. To examine the participation of the opioid system during lactation, we used groups of rats on days 1, 3, 5, 12 and 19 postpartum either (i) isolated from the pups for 4 h, or (ii) isolated from the pups for 3.5 h and reunited with them and suckled for 30 min. Naloxone, given just before replacing the pups, prevented the increase in serum prolactin levels observed in the suckled group of rats but had no effect on the basal levels of the isolated rats. To examine whether the participation of the opioid system in the release of prolactin is dependent on the variation of progesterone levels, rats on day 20 of pregnancy were implanted with two cannulae containing progesterone (that blocked postpartum ovulation) or cholesterol, and cesarean surgery was performed on day 21. To maintain lactation, pups (1-3 days old) were replaced every 24 h, and 4 days after the cesarean eight pups were placed in the cage at 1800 h to maintain a strong suckling stimulus during the following 24 h. Naloxone administration significantly reduced serum prolactin levels in control (cholesterol) rats but progesterone implants prevented the inhibitory effect of naloxone and this effect was not modified by treatment with estrogen. These results indicate that the opioid system modulates suckling-induced prolactin secretion, passing from an inhibitory action before delivery to a stimulatory action during lactation. This regulatory shift seems to be dependent on the fall in progesterone concentration at the end of pregnancy and the subsequent increase after the postpartum ovulation and luteal phase.