Ovarian steroids control a variety of physiological functions. They exert actions through classical nuclear steroid receptors, but rapid non-genomic actions through specific membrane steroid receptors have been also described. In this study, we demonstrate that the G-protein-coupled estrogen receptor (GPER) is expressed in the rat pituitary gland and, at a high level, in the lactotroph population. Our results revealed that ~40% of the anterior pituitary cells are GPER positive and ~35% of the lactotrophs are GPER positive. By immunocytochemical and immuno-electron-microscopy studies, we demonstrated that GPER is localized in the plasmatic membrane but is also associated to the endoplasmic reticulum in rat lactotrophs. Moreover, we found that local Gper expression is regulated negatively by 17β-estradiol (E2) and progesterone (P4) and fluctuates during the estrus cycle, being minimal in proestrus. Interestingly, lack of ovarian steroids after an ovariectomy (OVX) significantly increased pituitary GPER expression specifically in the three morphologically different subtypes of lactotrophs. We found a rapid estradiol stimulatory effect on PRL secretion mediated by GPER, both in vitro and ex vivo, using a GPER agonist G1, and this effect was prevented by the GPER antagonist G36, demonstrating a novel role for this receptor. Then, the increased pituitary GPER expression after OVX could lead to alterations in the pituitary function as all three lactotroph subtypes are target of GPER ligand and could be involved in the PRL secretion mediated by GPER. Therefore, it should be taken into consideration in the response of the gland to an eventual hormone replacement therapy.
Supplemental figure 1 - GPER protein expression in GH3 cells by immunocytochemistry (ICC).