Pituitary prolactin secretion is regulated by neuroendocrine neurons in the hypothalamus, the most important ones being the neurosecretory tuberoinfundibulum (TIDA) neurons of the arcuate nucleus, which secrete dopamine to act on the dopamine-2 receptors (D2-R) of lactotrophs, causing inhibition of prolactin secretion. Thyrotropin-releasing factor has a stimulatory effect on prolactin release.
It stimulates the mammary glands to produce milk (lactation): Increased serum concentrations of prolactin during pregnancy cause enlargement of the mammary glands of the breasts and increases the production of milk. However, the high levels of progesterone during pregnancy act directly on the breasts to stop ejection of milk. It is only when the levels of this hormone fall after childbirth that milk ejection is possible. Sometimes, newborn babies (males as well as females) secrete a milky substance from their nipples. This substance is commonly known as Witch's milk. This is caused by the fetus being affected by prolactin circulating in the mother just before birth, and usually stops soon after birth.
Prolactin provides the body with sexual gratification after sexual acts: The hormone counteracts the effect of dopamine, which is responsible for sexual arousal. This is thought to cause the sexual refractory period. The amount of prolactin can be an indicator for the amount of sexual satisfaction and relaxation. Unusually high amounts are suspected to be responsible for impotence and loss of libido (see hyperprolactinemia Symptoms). Prolactin also stimulates proliferation of oligodendrocyte precursor cells. These cells differentiate into oligodendrocytes, the cells responsible for the formation of myelin coatings on axons in the central nervous system.
Prolactin also has a number of other effects including contributing to surfactant synthesis of the fetal lungs at the end of the pregnancy and immune tolerance of the fetus by the maternal organism during pregnancy;it also decreases normal levels of sex hormones — estrogen in women and testosterone in men.. Prolactin delays hair regrowth in mice.
During pregnancy, high circulating concentrations of estrogen promote prolactin production. The resulting high levels of prolactin secretion cause further maturation of the mammary glands, preparing them for lactation.
After childbirth, prolactin levels fall as the internal stimulus for them is removed. Sucking by the baby on the nipple then promotes further prolactin release, maintaining the ability to lactate. The sucking activates mechanoreceptors in and around the nipple. These signals are carried by nerve fibers through the spinal cord to the hypothalamus, where changes in the electrical activity of neurons that regulate the pituitary gland cause increased prolactin secretion. The suckling stimulus also triggers the release of oxytocin from the posterior pituitary gland, which triggers milk let-down: Prolactin controls milk production (lactogenesis) but not the milk-ejection reflex; the rise in prolactin fills the breast with milk in preparation for the next feed.
Prolactin levels peak during REM sleep, and in the early morning. Levels can rise after exercise, meals, sexual intercourse, or minor surgical procedures.
Little prolactin is apparently the result of removal of some amino acids, whereas big prolactin can be the product of interaction of several prolactin molecules.
Pit-1 is a transcription factor that binds to the prolactin gene at several sites to allow for the production of prolactin in the pituitary gland. A key regulator of prolactin production is estrogens that enhance growth of prolactin-producing cells and stimulate prolactin production directly, as well as suppressing dopamine.
Human prolactin receptors are insensitive to mouse prolactin.
Prolactin receptors are present in the mamillary glands, ovaries, pituitary glands, heart, lung, thymus, spleen, liver, pancreas, kidney, adrenal gland, uterus, skeletal muscle, skin and areas of the central nervous system. When prolactin binds to the receptor it causes it to dimerize with another prolactin receptor. This results in the activation of Janus kinase 2 a tyrosine kinase which initiates the JAK-STAT pathway. The activation of the prolactin receptor also results in the activation of mitogen-activated protein kinases and Src kinase.
If one or more of these conditions are broken, lactational amenorrhea is no longer a reliable form of birth control. This contraceptive method is highly effective as long as the three conditions stated above are fulfilled. Further, the WHO suggests that a woman that is still amenorrheic has a less-than-5% chance of getting pregnant in the first year of her baby's life, as long as she is still breastfeeding on demand.