Reproductive Experience Reduces Circulating 17β-Estradiol and Prolactin Levels during Proestrus and Alters Estrogen Sensitivity in Female Rats

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Abstract

The reproductive experiences of pregnancy, parturition, and lactation affect a range of neural and endocrine processes after the end of lactation. In women, previous parity results in reduced circulating prolactin (PRL) and androgen levels years after giving birth. Reductions in PRL secretion also occur in reproductively experienced, female rats. In the present study we examined the status and regulation of estradiol (E2) and PRL during the reproductive cycle after reproductive experience. These hormones regulate one another and have been implicated in a number of disease and aging processes. Using a rat model, the patterns of E2 and PRL secretion, pituitary PRL content, and estrogen receptor α expression were characterized from 1200-1800 h on proestrus in age-matched, primiparous and nulliparous animals. The possible effect of parity on estrogen sensitivity was then examined by challenging nonlactating, ovariectomized, age-matched, multiparous and nulliparous rats with estradiol benzoate (EB; 0, 1, 5, 25, and 125 μg/kg) and measuring PRL responses 24 and 48 h later. Previous parity resulted in modest, yet significant, reductions in E2 and PRL levels on proestrus, a limited increase in pituitary estrogen receptor α expression, and a significant shift in estrogen sensitivity, as measured by EB-induced PRL secretion. Nulliparous animals were more sensitive than multiparous rats to the two lower doses of EB, whereas multiparous animals were more responsive to the highest EB dose. These unique parity-induced alterations in the female's endocrine state that persist beyond lactation may impact a multitude of estrogen-mediated processes over the female's adult life span.

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