Progesterone (P)-induced PRL secretion in estradiol (E)-primed monkeys is not due to direct pituitary stimulation, because lactotropes do not express progestin receptors (PR). However, the hypothalamus, particularly the tuberoinfundibular dopaminergic system (TIDA), plays a major role in the regulation of PRL secretion. To determine whether hypothalamic dopamine neurons are progestin target cells, the colocalization of PR and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), a phenotypic marker of dopaminergic neurons, was examined with double immunocytochem- istry. Two methods for visualizing the antigens were applied; the first was a dual peroxidase method, and the second was a peroxidase-alkaline phosphatase method. In addition, the question of whether E induces PR in dopamine neurons was explored. Spayed female monkeys were treated with empty Silastic capsules, E-filled capsules for a period of 28 days, or E capsules supplemented with P capsules for the last 14 days of E treatment. Only the E- plus P-treated monkeys exhibited an increase in serum PRL during the P treatment period. Frontal sections at the level of the optic chiasm and arcuate nucleus were examined for the colocalization of TH and PR. After E treatment, hypothalamic PR- positive cells increased in both intensity and number. Neurons expressing both TH and PR were detected in the rostral hypothalamus, lateral to the third ventricle (All-rostral) and in a discrete subventricular population (All-subvent). The lateral population continued caudally (All-caudal). The All-subvent population exhibited little steroid regulation. Of the remaining All TH neurons, approximately 20% exhibited PR in the spayed and E-treated groups. Addition of P doubled the percentage of PR-containing TH neurons in this group. Although very few TH-positive neurons in the ventral arcuate nucleus contained PR (A12-ventral), many double labeled neurons were observed in the dorsal arcuate region (A12-dorsal). Ventral arcuate TIDA neurons were not regulated by steroids, but E plus P increased PR expression in A12- dorsal. Double labeled cells were rarely seen in the zona incerta (A13) or the emerging ventral tegmental area (A10). In summary, P probably does not act directly on ventral arcuate TIDA neurons to stimulate PRL secretion. However, the frequency of PR-positive dopamine neurons in the All-rostral, All-caudal, and A12-dorsal groups increased with E and P treatment. Therefore, the contribution of the PR-positive periventricular dopamine neurons to progestin-stimulated PRL secretion may be important.
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