Prolactin signaling modulates stress-induced behavioral responses in a preclinical mouse model of migraine

Bianca N. Mason, Rohini Kallianpur, Theodore J. Price, Armen N. Akopian, Gregory O. Dussor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Objective: The aim of this study was to determine if prolactin signaling modulates stress-induced behavioral responses in a preclinical migraine model. Background: Migraine is one of the most complex and prevalent disorders. The involvement of sex-selective hormones in migraine pathology is highly likely as migraine is more common in women and its frequency correlates with reproductive stages. Prolactin has been shown to be a worsening factor for migraine. Normally prolactin levels are low; however levels can surge during stress. Dopamine receptor agonists, which suppress pituitary prolactin release, are an effective migraine treatment in a subset of patients. Previously, we showed that administration of prolactin onto the dura mater induces female-specific behavioral responses, suggesting that prolactin may play a sex-specific role in migraine. Methods: The effects of prolactin signaling were assessed using a preclinical migraine model we published recently in which behavioral sensitization is induced by repeated stress. Plasma prolactin levels were assessed in naïve and stressed CD-1 mice (n = 3–5/group) and transgenic mice with conditional deletion of the Prlr in Nav1.8-positive sensory neurons (Prlr conditional knock-out [CKO]; n = 3/group). To assess the contribution of prolactin release during stress, naïve or stressed male and female CD-1 mice were treated with the prolactin release inhibitor bromocriptine (2 mg/kg; n = 7–12/group) or vehicle for 5 days (8–12/group) and tested for facial hypersensitivity following stress. Additionally, the contribution of ovarian hormones in regulating the prolactin-induced responses was assessed in ovariectomized female CD-1 mice (n = 6–10/group). Furthermore, the contribution of Prlr activation on Nav1.8-positive sensory neurons was assessed. Naïve or stressed male and female Prlr CKO mice and their control littermates were tested for facial hypersensitivity (n = 8–9/group). Immunohistochemistry was used to confirm loss of Prlr in Nav1.8-positive neurons in Prlr CKO mice. The total sample size is n = 245; the full analysis sample size is n = 221. Results: Stress significantly increased prolactin levels in vehicle-treated female mice (39.70 ± 2.77; p < 0.0001). Bromocriptine significantly reduced serum prolactin levels in stressed female mice compared to vehicle-treated mice (−44.85 ± 3.1; p < 0.0001). Additionally, no difference was detected between female stressed mice that received bromocriptine compared to naïve mice treated with bromocriptine (−0.70 ± 2.9; p = 0.995). Stress also significantly increased serum prolactin levels in male mice, although to a much smaller extent than in females (0.61 ± 0.08; p < 0.001). Bromocriptine significantly reduced serum prolactin levels in stressed males compared to those treated with vehicle (−0.49 ± 0.08; p = 0.002). Furthermore, bromocriptine attenuated stress-induced behavioral responses in female mice compared to those treated with vehicle (maximum effect observed on day 4 post stress [0.21 ± 0.08; p = 0.03]). Bromocriptine did not attenuate stress-induced behavior in males at any timepoint compared to those treated with vehicle. Moreover, loss of ovarian hormones did not affect the ability of bromocriptine to attenuate stress responses compared to vehicle-treated ovariectomy mice that were stressed (maximum effect observed on day 4 post stress [0.29 ± 0.078; p = 0.013]). Similar to CD-1 mice, stress increased serum prolactin levels in both Prlr CKO female mice (27.74 ± 9.96; p = 0.047) and control littermates (28.68 ± 9.9; p = 0.041) compared to their naïve counterparts. There was no significant increase in serum prolactin levels detected in male Prlr CKO mice or control littermates. Finally, conditional deletion of Prlr from Nav1.8-positive sensory neurons led to a female-specific attenuation of stress-induced behavioral responses (maximum effect observed on day 7 post stress [0.32 ± 0.08; p = 0.007]) compared to control littermates. Conclusion: These data demonstrate that prolactin plays a female-specific role in stress-induced behavioral responses in this preclinical migraine model through activation of Prlr on sensory neurons. They also support a role for prolactin in migraine mechanisms in females and suggest that modulation of prolactin signaling may be an effective therapeutic strategy in some cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-25
Number of pages15
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology


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