Seasonal patterns of hair growth are governed, at least in part, by levels of prolactin in circulation, and although receptors for prolactin (PRLR) have been demonstrated in hair follicles, little is known of their regulation in relation to follicular cycles. In this study, a photoperiod-generated increase in prolactin was used to induce a wool follicle cycle during which changes in PRLR expression in sheep skin were determined by ribonuclease protection assay and in situ hybridisation. mRNA for prolactin and both isoforms of PRLR were also detected in skin by reverse transcription and polymerase chain reaction. As circulating prolactin began to rise from low levels, PRLR mRNA in the skin initially fell. These changes immediately preceded the catagen (regressive) phase of the hair cycle. Further increase in prolactin resulted in up-regulation of PRLR during telogen (dormancy), particularly in the epithelial hair germ, to reach a peak during proanagen (reactivation). In anagen (when follicle growth was fully re-established), PRLR mRNA returned to levels similar to those observed before the induced cycle. Hence, this longer term rise and fall of PRLR expression followed that of plasma prolactin concentration with a lag of 12-14 days. PRLR mRNA was most abundant in the dermal papilla, outer root sheath, hair germ, skin glands and epidermis. Location of PRLR in the dermal papilla and outer root sheath indicates action of prolactin on the growth-controlling centres within wool follicles. These cycle-related patterns of PRLR expression suggest dynamic regulation of PRLR by prolactin, thereby modulating hormonal responsiveness of seasonally growing hair follicles.
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