PRL secretion from pituitary lactotrophs was assessed using the reverse hemolytic plaque assay in young (2- to 3-month-old), middle-aged (10- to 12-month-old), and middleaged long term ovariectomized (LT-OVX) rats to investigate whether 1) a change in the percentage of pituitary cells secreting PRL is detectable in middle-aged animals, 2) the amount of PRL secreted per cell changes with age, 3) aging involves a change in responsiveness to TRH and/or dopamine (DA), and 4) LT-OVX can prevent any of these changes. Young and middle-aged rats were OVX for 1 week. LT-OVX rats were OVX at 2â€ 3 months of age and used when they were 10â€ 12 months old. All animals were implanted with Silastic capsules containing estradiol (E2) in sesame oil and killed 3 or 8 days later. Anterior pituitaries were collected, and cells were dispersed and prepared for the reverse hemolytic plaque assay. Three days after E2 was implanted, the percentage of anterior pituitary cells that secrete PRL was higher in middle-aged compared to young rats. LTOVX prevented this increase; the percentage of cells secreting PRL was significantly lower in LT-OVX than in both young and middle-aged rats. Basal secretion of PRL per cell was not different in young compared to middle-aged rats and was significantly lower in LT-OVX than in either young or middle-aged rats. TRH induced similar increases in plaque size in young and middle-aged rats, but had no effect in LT-OVX rats. DA (10-7 M) inhibited plaque size only in LT-OVX rats; however, higher concentrations of DA were equally effective in the three experimental groups. Eight days after E2 was implanted, the percentage of cells that secrete PRL increased in LT-OVX rats, but was still significantly lower than that in middle-aged animals. After 8 days of E2 treatment, PRL release was similar in the three experimental groups under basal conditions. In LT-OVX rats TRH produced a small increase in PRL secretion (30â€ 40%); DA suppressed PRL release in a similar manner in the three groups. These data demonstrate that middle-aged rats exhibit an increase in the percentage of cells secreting PRL without a concomitant detectable change in the amount of PRL released by single cells and/or a change in responsiveness to TRH or DA. Long term estrogen deprivation prevents this age-related change, suppresses responsiveness to TRH, and enhances sensitivity to DA.
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