Prolactinoma is the most common type of primary pituitary tumors. It occurs more frequently in women than in men. Dopaminergic agonists are effective in the shrinkage of prolactin-secreting pituitary tumor and are preferred in some patients. However, pituitary radiotherapy may enable the long-term removal of prolactin-secreting tumor cells. Recent evidence suggests that prolactinoma is a heterogeneous disorder with complicated and multifactorial etiology and pathogenesis. Apparently, a thorough understanding of prolactinoma tumorigenesis would be important. To facilitate investigations on tumorigenesis of prolactinoma, animal models for prolactinomas have been developed. These models have expedited our progress in the recent years. Many researchers consider the F344 rat to be the most sensitive strain of rats to estrogen (E2)-induced prolactinoma formation. Nonetheless, E2 treatment for 60 days also induces the formation of pituitary prolactin-secreting adenoma in male Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats. Evidently, the SD rat is also a good animal for prolactinoma investigations. Following E2 implantation, prolactinomas developed in the eutopic adenohypophysis in situ and/or ectopic pituitary grafted under the renal capsule in SD rats. These observations favor the hypothesis that prolactinoma growth is the result of pathological changes in the adenohypophysis and/or hypothalamus. In the latter case, abnormal release of hypothalamic dopamine, GABA, or brain-gut peptides (such as cholecystokinin, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, galanin, angiotensin, opioid peptide, gastrin, gastrin-releasing peptide, pancreatic polypeptide, and adrenocorticotropic hormone) results in some of the pathological changes that may lead to hyperprolactinemia and/or prolactinoma development. Dysregulation of prolactin synthesis and secretion may be the result of prolactin gene modulation. In E2-induced rat prolactinomas, prolactin mRNA contents and the expression of some proto-oncogenes, e.g. c-myc and c-ras, TGFα and TGFβ1 mRNA were significantly changed. The above findings are consistent with results in human prolactinoma development. In addition, in rats abnormal expression of the prolactin gene was correlated with hypomethylated status of CpG sites in exons 1, 2 and 4 of the prolactin gene, as well as the increase in hypersensitive sites to DNase 1 in the encoding region of the prolactin gene. In E2-treated rats, a point mutation with a base substitution from cytidine (C) to adenine (A) was found at the –36-bp site of the proximal promoter of the prolactin gene in eutopic pituitary prolactinomas, but no change was observed in the same sequence of the prolactin gene in ectopic prolactinoma. The association of a base substitution with the hyperexpression of the prolactin gene in eutopic prolactinomas suggests that different mechanisms may mediate the formation of eutopic and ectopic prolactin-secreting tumors. Melatonin decreases the expression of the prolactin gene in vitro suggesting that this pineal hormone may be a potential anticarcinogen in vivo. It has also been shown that MT2 (Mel1b) melatonin receptors are expressed in anterior pituitary cells. The use of melatonin as a preventive or therapeutic drug for prolactinomas should be further investigated. In summary, improved knowledge on tumorigenesis of prolactinomas, especially in the rat model, was noted. These E2-induced rat prolactinoma models would facilitate future investigations, and expected results shall be fruitful and exciting for the development of future drug designs for the prevention and/or treatment of prolactin-secreting pituitary tumors.

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