Prolactin: A Pleiotropic Neuroendocrine Hormone

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The neuroendocrine control of prolactin secretion is unlike that of any other pituitary hormone. It is predominantly inhibited by the hypothalamus and, in the absence of a regulatory feedback hormone, it acts directly in the brain to suppress its own secretion. In addition to this short-loop feedback action in the brain, prolactin has been reported to influence a wide range of other brain functions. There have been few attempts to rationalise why a single hormone might exert such a range of distinct and seemingly unrelated neuroendocrine functions. In this review, we highlight some of the original studies that first characterised the unusual features of prolactin neuroendocrinology, and then attempt to identify areas of new progress and/or controversy. Finally, we discuss a hypothesis that provides a unifying explanation for the pleiotrophic actions of prolactin in the brain.

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