Some environmental contaminants and pharmaceuticals increase the incidence of uterine tumors in toxicological studies with rats. These tumors can result from a hormonal imbalance due to rat-specific disrupted pituitary prolactin regulation, and are therefore of questionable relevance for humans. In this study we compared in vitro prolactin regulation in rat primary pituitary cells to that in pituitary cell lines, GH3 and RC-4BC. Moreover, we assessed the potential effects of aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) activation on prolactin regulation by using two different AHR agonists, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and DELAQ, the N-deethylated minor metabolite of the pharmaceutical laquinimod. In rat primary pituitary cells, known prolactin stimulant thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) marginally increased prolactin secretion (1.2-fold) and gene expression (1.3-fold). In contrast, synthetic dopamine receptor agonist quinpirole, a known inhibitor of prolactin release, significantly inhibited prolactin secretion (2.6-fold) and gene expression (3.6-fold). In GH3 cells, TRH strongly increased prolactin secretion (6.8-fold) and gene expression (30.8-fold), whereas quinpirole did not affect prolactin secretion nor gene expression. In RC-4BC cells, both TRH and quinpirole did not modulate prolactin secretion nor gene expression. Prolactin secretion and gene expression did not significantly change upon exposure to TCDD or DELAQ. However, DELAQ, but not TCDD, attenuated quinpirole-inhibited prolactin gene expression by 51% in primary pituitary cells. This study shows that pituitary prolactin regulation in rat primary pituitary cells in vitro is distinctly different from rat pituitary cell lines GH3 and RC-4BC. Therefore, effects on pituitary prolactin regulation in vitro should best be performed using rat primary pituitary cells. Additionally, AHR ligands may interact with rat pituitary prolactin regulation, but this appears to depend on the ligand and constitutive prolactin secretion. However, interpretation of the in vitro results with respect to occurrence of uterine tumors in rats should take the complex regulation of prolactin release in the pituitary into account as well as the in vivo hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis and its feedback loops.
- Aryl hydrocarbon receptor