Ethanol induces hyperprolactinemia by increasing prolactin release and lactotrope growth in female rats

Alok De, Nadka Boyadjieva, Souichi Oomizu, Dipak K. Sarkar

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38 Scopus citations


Background: Alcohol drinking is known to cause hyperprolactinemia in both humans and laboratory animals. The mechanism by which alcoholism causes hyperprolactinemia is not known. This study investigated whether increased pituitary production of prolactin, which leads to alcohol-induced hyperprolactinemia, results from an increase in cell number and/or cell production of prolactin in the pituitary. Methods: The effects of ethanol on lactotropes were determined in vivo using female rats as an animal model and in vitro using primary cultures of mixed rat anterior pituitary cells and enriched lactotropes. In vivo experiments involved administration of ethanol for 2 and 4 weeks using a liquid diet containing 8.7% ethanol (v/v), which provides 37% of the calories in cyclic, ovariectomized, and estradiol-17β-treated ovariectomized Fischer-344 rats. The control group was pair-fed an isocaloric diet minus the ethanol or fed a normal diet ad libitum. These animals were used to determine ethanol's effects on plasma prolactin levels, pituitary wet weights, pituitary total protein levels, and the number of mitotic lactotropes. In vitro studies determined ethanol's effects in the presence and absence of estradiol on prolactin release and lactotropic cell proliferation. Prolactin levels in plasma and media samples were measured using radioimmunoassay. Mitotic lactotropes were determined using bromodeoxyuridine incorporation assay. Results: Ethanol treatment increased in a time-dependent manner the plasma levels of prolactin in cyclic, ovariectomized, and estradiol-treated ovariectomized rats. Ethanol treatment also increased pituitary wet weight and/or pituitary total protein levels and DNA synthesis in lactotropes. Determination of ethanol's action on lactotropic cell proliferation and hormone secretion in vitro using primary cultures of mixed pituitary cells revealed that ethanol stimulated both basal and estradiol-induced prolactin secretion and lactotropic cell proliferation. When ethanol's actions were studied in isolated lactotropes, ethanol alone or in combination with estradiol stimulated prolactin secretion but failed to increase lactotropic cell proliferation. Conclusions: These results suggest that ethanol causes hyperprolactinemia by elevating prolactin release from lactotropes and by increasing the number of lactotropes in the anterior pituitary gland. The mitotic action of ethanol requires cell-cell communication between lactotropes and other pituitary cells. Furthermore, ethanol's mode of action on prolactin release and lactotrope growth is similar to that observed for estradiol.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1420-1429
Number of pages10
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


  • Estradiol
  • Fischer-344 Rats
  • Hyperprolactinemia
  • Pituitary Prolactin-Secreting Tumors
  • Primary Cultures of Lactotropes


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