Adult male rats were injected with different doses (1, 10, and 100 µg) of 17 µ-estradiol daily for 5 days, and the changes in prolactin (PRL) mRNA levels were examined by in situ hibridizatlon and cytoplasmic dot blot hybridization using cloned cDNA for rat prolactin mRNA. An increase in cytoplasmic PRL mRNA content was evident in all the animals treated with estrogen as revealed with cytoplasmic dot blot analysis. There were however, no significant differences in PRL mRNA content among the three estradiol treated groups. Cytoplasmic PRL mRNA was also demonstrated by in situ hybridization on the frozen pituitary sections using a 3H-labeled PRL cDNA probe. The number of grains per cell was increased after estrogen treatment. 3H-thymidine uptake into pituitary cells was also examined in vivo using combined techniques of immunocytochemistry and autoradiography. Although the percentage of immunoreactive PRL cells which took up thymidine in their nuclei increased to more than double after estrogen treatment, the increase in the total number of immunoreactive PRL cells was small. These results suggest that the major effect of estrogen on PRL cells is an increase in the accumulation of PRL mRNA in the individual PRL cells. The number of grains per cell was found to vary from cell to cell, both in control and estrogen treated animals. This variability is discussed in relation to the functional heterogeneity within the PRL cell population.
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