Besides its potential roles as a central neuromodulator or a hypothalamic neurohormone, neurotensin (NT) may also have endocrine function in the anterior pituitary of mammals. We previously found that NT immunoreactivity is present in the secretory granules of gonadotropes and thyrotropes in both male and female rats, where its levels of expression are under the control of sex steroids. In this work, using immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization, we have studied the postnatal development of NT-like immunoreactivity (NTir) and the mRNA encoding NT (mRNA-NT) in specific anterior pituitary cells of both male and female rats. NT expression starts after birth and displays an identical pattern in both sexes until sexual maturity, with mRNA-NT being detected from day 2 of postnatal life in thyrotropes localized in the central portion of the anterior lobe. This pattern of expression develops progressively throughout the 2nd and 3rd weeks in both sexes. By the beginning of the 3rd week, mRNA-NT can also be detected in gonadotropes localized in the periphery of the gland coinciding with a rise in serum estradiol concentrations in both sexes, and by day 21, mRNA-NT is extensively present in both the periphery and the central region. NTir is observed from days 5–6 in thyrotropes predominantly localized in the central portion of the anterior lobe, and by day 21, NTir is also detected in gonadotropes localized in the periphery of the gland. This pattern remains similar in both sexes until the time of puberty, when female rats start displaying plastic changes in NT expression according to the stage of the estrous cycle. These findings indicate that NT expression in the rat anterior pituitary is cell specific, and develops from birth to adulthood under the control of sex steroid hormones. In addition, preliminary data showing the presence of NT receptors in rat pituitary cells support the hypothesis of a paracrine or an autocrine role for this peptide within the pituitary.

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