Prolactin modulates the naive B cell repertoire

J Clin Invest. 2003 Jan;111(2):275-83. doi: 10.1172/JCI16530.


Prolactin is a peptide hormone produced by the anterior pituitary gland that is critical in lactation. Prolactin can also be produced by lymphocytes, and both B and T cells express prolactin receptors. These findings have suggested that prolactin has immunomodulatory functions. Studies in spontaneously autoimmune hosts have demonstrated a role for prolactin in augmenting autoreactivity. We chose to analyze prolactin effects on anti-DNA B cells in nonspontaneously autoimmune female BALB/c mice transgenic for the heavy chain of an anti-DNA antibody. Treatment with prolactin for 4 weeks induced a lupus-like phenotype with an increased number of transgene-expressing B cells, elevated serum anti-DNA antibody titers, and glomerular immunoglobulin deposits. Prolactin caused a decrease in the population of transitional B cells and an increase in mature follicular and marginal zone B cells. The DNA-reactive B cells had a follicular cell phenotype. Anti-DNA hybridomas demonstrated that prolactin alters selection of the naive B cell repertoire. The expansion and activation of anti-DNA B cells in prolactin-treated R4A-gamma2b BALB/c mice was dependent on the presence of CD4(+) T cells. Finally, treatment with prolactin was unable to break tolerance in R4A-gamma2b transgenic C57Bl/6 mice, suggesting that responsiveness of the immune system to prolactin is genetically determined.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Antinuclear / biosynthesis
  • B-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • B-Lymphocytes / physiology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / physiology
  • CD40 Antigens / biosynthesis
  • DNA / immunology
  • Female
  • Hybridomas / immunology
  • Immunoglobulin Variable Region / genetics
  • Immunoglobulin kappa-Chains / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Prolactin / pharmacology*


  • Antibodies, Antinuclear
  • CD40 Antigens
  • Immunoglobulin Variable Region
  • Immunoglobulin kappa-Chains
  • Prolactin
  • DNA