The secretion of prolactin in cultured pituitary cells was studied in correlation with the cellular changes induced by stimulatory or inhibitory agents. The techniques used in this study were: radioimmunoassay, immunocytochemistry, scanning (SEM) as well as transmission (TEM) electron microscopy. Prolactin secretion was stimulated by 17 beta-estradiol (10 nM) as well as thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) (3 nM) and inhibited by 2-Br-alpha-ergocryptine (CB-154) (1 muM). The total prolactin (release and cell content) increased between 2 and 8 d of estradiol treatment, indicating an increase of both synthesis and release of prolactin. This finding was in agreement with TEM observations because, in estradiol-treated prolactin cells, the Golgi saccules were distended and Golgi elements were increased, thus indicating increased synthetic activity of these cells. The addition of TRH over a 4-h period resulted in a significant degranulation of prolactin cells. In contrast, prolactin secretory granules became accumulated in the cells after CB-154 treatment for a period ranging from 4 to 24 h. In agreement, light microscope immunocytochemistry showed an increased reaction for prolactin after short-term (< 24 h) incubation with CB-154. Because prolactin cells represent approximately 70% of the glandular cell population as revealed by immunocytochemistry, it was then possible to observe the changes of cell surface by SEM. In most cells, estradiol and TRH led to an increase in the number and prominence of microvilli and blebs, whereas CB-154 treatment resulted in a slightly decreased number of microvilli and an increased occurrence of membrane foldings. This report thus provides morphological evidence for the stimulatory effects of estradiol and TRH, and the inhibitory effects of CB-154 on prolactin secretion in pituitary cells in primary culture. These data, moreover, show that acute changes in secretory activity of prolactin-secreting cells are accompanied by marked changes of their morphological characteristics.

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