Differential expression of gonadotropin and prolactin antigens by GHRH target cells from male and female rats

G. V. Childs, G. Unabia, B. T. Miller, T. J. Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


There is a 2- to 3-fold increase in luteinizing hormone-beta (LHβ) or follicle-stimulating hormone-beta (FSHβ) antigen-bearing gonadotropes during diestrus in preparation for the peak LH or FSH secretory activity. This coincides with an increase in cells bearing LHβ or FSHβ mRNA. Similarly, there is a 3- to 4-fold increase in the percentage of cells that bind GnRH. In 1994, we reported that this augmentation in gonadotropes may come partially from subsets of somatotropes that transitionally express LHβ or FSHβ mRNA and GnRH-binding sites. The next phase of the study focused on questions relating to the somatotropes themselves. Do these putative somato- gonadotropes retain a somatotrope phenotype? As a part of ongoing studies that address this question, a biotinylated analog of GHRH was produced, separated by HPLC and characterized for its ability to elicit the release of GH as well as bind to pituitary target cells. The biotinylated analog (Bio- GHRH) was detected cytochemically by the avidin-peroxidase complex technique. It could be displaced by competition with 100-1000 nM GHRH but not corticotropin-releasing hormone or GnRH. In cells from male rats exposed to 1 nM Bio-GHRH, 28 ± 6% (mean ± S.D) of pituitary cells exhibited label for Bio-GHRH (compared with 0.8 ± 0.6% in the controls). There were no differences in percentages of GHRH target cells in populations from proestrous (28 ± 5%) and estrous (25 ± 5%) rats. Maximal percentages of labeled cells were seen following addition of 1 nM analog for 10 min. In dual-labeled fields, GHRH target cells contained all major pituitary hormones, but their expression of ACTH and TRH was very low (less than 3% of the pituitary cell population) and the expression of prolactin (PRL) and gonadotropins varied with the sex and stage of the animal. In all experimental groups, 78-80% of Bio-GHRH-reactive cells contained GH (80-91% of GH cells). In male rats, 33 ± 6% of GHRH target cells contained PRL (37 ± 9% of PRL cells) and less than 20% of these GHRH-receptive cells contained gonadotropins (23 ± 1% of LH and 31 ± 9% of FSH cells). In contrast, expression of PRL and gonadotropins was found in over half of the GHRH target cells from proestrous female rats (55 ± 10% contained PRL; 56 ± 8% contained FSHβ; and 66 ± 1% contained LHβ). This reflected GHRH binding by 71 ± 2% PRL cells, 85 ± 5% of LH cells and 83 ± 9% of FSH cells. In estrous female rats, the hormonal storage patterns in GHRH target cells were similar to those in the male rat. Because the overall percentages of cells with Bio-GHRH or GH label do not vary among the three groups, the differences seen in the proestrous group reflect internal changes within a single group of somatotropes that retain their GHRH receptor phenotype. Hence, these data correlate with earlier findings that showed that somatotropes may be converted to transitional gonadotropes just before proestrus secretory activity. The LH and FSH antigen content of the GHRH target cells from proestrous rats demonstrates that the LHβ and FSHβ mRNAs are indeed translated. Furthermore, the increased expression of PRL antigens by these cells signifies that these convertible somatotropes may also be somatomammotropes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-187
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Endocrinology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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