A light and electron microscopic immunocytochemical study was undertaken to explore the fine structural organization of prolactin-immunoreactive axons in the rat median eminence. In adult intact males and females and in hypophysectomized females, light microscopic immunocytochemical labeling of the mediobasal hypothalamus revealed a marked concentration of prolactin-like immunoreactive fibers in the perivascular layer throughout the median eminence and the hypophysial stalk. At the electron microscopic level, immunostaining was associated with typical neurosecretory axons located either in the palisade layer where they displayed numerous contacts with tanycyte processes, or in the perivascular layer where they frequently contacted the perivascular space. Within the labeled axonal profiles, immunostaining was essentially located on secretory granules, 90–120 nm in diameter, whereas the microvesicles accumulated in some perivascular profiles constantly remained unlabeled. These data strongly suggest that most prolactin-immunoreactive axons of the median eminence release their content into the hypophysial portal vessels. In 1-day-old infant rats, intensely prolactin-like immunoreactive fibers were similarly localized in the most external layer of the median eminence, in which, contrary to adult animals, very slight if any tyrosine-hydroxylase-immunoreactive fibers were detected. Since earlier studies have provided evidence for a nondopaminergic prolactin-release-inhibiting factor in the hypothalamus of infant rats, and for an inhibitory effect of prolactin on pituitary mammotrophs, we propose that hypothalamic prolactin maycontribute, as an additional prolactin-release-inhibiting factor, to the multifactorial control of pituitary mammotrophs.

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