The prolactin (PRL) gene is expressed in the hypothalamo-neurohypophyseal system as revealed by the detection of the PRL mRNA and of PRL-like immunoreactive and biologically active proteins in hypothalamic paraventricular (PVN) and supraoptic (SON) nuclei and in the neurohypophysis. We have investigated the distribution of cells containing PRL-like molecules in the PVN and SON by immunocytochemistry with a specific antiserum directed against the 16-kD N-terminal fragment of PRL. PRL-positive cells were found to be concentrated throughout the ventral SON and in the lateroposterior region of the PVN. The cellular distribution of PRL-immunoreactive cells resembled more closely that of vasopressin (VP) than that of oxytocin magnocellular neurons. Moreover, double immunofluorescence labelling, followed by confocal microscopy, indicated the coexistence of PRL- and VP-related antigens within the same neurons of the PVN and SON. Pre-embedding immunoperoxidase on the ultrastructural level showed a PRL-like product in granular-type particles within the neural soma and projections in the SON and PVN. These findings are consistent with the expression and secretion of PRL-like molecules by vasopressinergic neurons of the hypothalamo-neurohypophyseal system.

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