Dopamine agonists and pituitary tumor shrinkage

Endocr Rev. 1992 May;13(2):220-40. doi: 10.1210/edrv-13-2-220.


The primary aim of this review has been to clarify the tumor shrinking effects of dopamine agonists on pituitary macroadenomas of different cell types. Shrinkage is most dramatic for macroprolactinomas and is due to cell size reduction. Seventy-nine percent of 271 definite macroprolactinomas were reduced in size by at least 25%, and 89% shrank to some degree. Most shrinkage occurs during the first 3 months of treatment, although in a minority shrinkage is delayed. Dopamine agonist resistance during long-term therapy is exceptional. Drug withdrawal nearly always leads to a return of hyperprolactinemia, even after several years treatment, although early tumor reexpansion is unusual. About 10% of true macroprolactinomas do not shrink with dopamine agonists; the molecular mechanisms of such resistance have yet to be determined. Alternative formulations of BC and new dopamine agonists (CV 205-502 and cabergoline) are useful for the minority of patients unable to tolerate oral BC, but do not seem to further improve overall shrinkage rates. The risks of pregnancy have probably been overstated, and BC is suitable primary treatment for women with prolactinomas of all sizes; the drug can be used safely during pregnancy in the event of clinically relevant tumor expansion. The interpretation of different degrees of hyperprolactinemia is discussed and management strategies suggested. Most patients with macroprolactinomas now avoid surgery, but drug-induced, time-dependent tumor fibrosis should be remembered if surgery is contemplated. Nonfunctioning pituitary tumors are mostly of gonadotroph cell origin and may be associated with significant disconnection hyperprolactinaemia. Seventy-six of 84 well-characterized tumors showed no tumor shrinkage during dopamine agonist therapy. Possible explanations include abnormalities of dopamine receptor number and function. Preliminary evidence suggests that dopamine agonists may restrain the growth of some functionless tumors; most of these tumors, however, can be satisfactorily debulked using transsphenoidal surgery. In contrast to macroprolactinomas, other functioning pituitary tumors (GH-, TSH-, and ACTH-secreting) rarely shrink during dopamine agonist therapy, although the number of tumors studied is small.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma / drug therapy*
  • Adenoma / metabolism
  • Adenoma / pathology
  • Bromocriptine / therapeutic use
  • Cell Division
  • Dopamine Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Pituitary Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Pituitary Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Neoplastic / drug therapy*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Neoplastic / metabolism
  • Pregnancy Complications, Neoplastic / pathology
  • Prolactin / blood
  • Prolactinoma / drug therapy*
  • Prolactinoma / metabolism
  • Prolactinoma / pathology


  • Dopamine Agents
  • Bromocriptine
  • Prolactin