Effects of growth hormone and prolactin on adipose tissue development and function

Pituitary. 2003 Sep;6(2):97-102. doi: 10.1023/b:pitu.0000004800.57449.67.


GH and PRL are both implicated in adipose tissue development. Whilst direct effects of GH have been clearly demonstrated, direct effects of PRL have been subject to considerable debate. Recent studies have however provided compelling evidence for PRL receptors on adipocytes and in vitro effects on leptin and lipoprotein lipase activity have been demonstrated. Quantitatively however these effects of PRL are less significant than those of GH and the most pronounced effects of PRL on adipose tissue are indirect, for example, during lactation, when prolactin drives milk synthesis which results in a homeorhetic shift towards lipid mobilization from adipose tissue to support milk production. GH also exhibits such homeorhetic effects, most notably in ruminants, but also clearly has direct, insulin-antagonistic, metabolic effects. The roles of GH and PRL on adipocyte proliferation and differentiation have also been controversial, with GH stimulating adipocyte differentiation in vitro in cell lines whilst stimulating proliferation and inhibiting differentiation of primary cell cultures. Examination of adipose tissue development in PRLRko and GHRko mice has revealed roles for both hormones. PRLRko mice show impaired development of both internal and subcutaneous adipose tissue due to decreased numbers of adipocytes. In contrast, GHRko mice exhibit major decreases in the number of internal (parametrial) adipocytes whereas subcutaneous adipocytes develop almost normally. This leads to major changes in the sites of adipose tissue accretion and bears interesting parallels with the adipose tissue redistribution which occurs in HIV-induced lipodystrophy. Such individuals exhibit a central obesity which can be partially corrected by GH treatment. However, recent studies suggest that this may be a physiological response in which adipose tissue sites containing lymphoid tissue (such as mesenteric) show preservation of adipose tissue perhaps to support augmented immune responses.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue / growth & development*
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects
  • Growth Hormone / deficiency
  • Growth Hormone / pharmacology
  • Growth Hormone / physiology*
  • Human Growth Hormone / deficiency
  • Human Growth Hormone / pharmacology
  • Human Growth Hormone / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Obesity / chemically induced
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Prolactin / pharmacology
  • Prolactin / physiology*
  • Receptors, Prolactin / genetics
  • Receptors, Prolactin / metabolism
  • Receptors, Somatotropin / genetics


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Receptors, Prolactin
  • Receptors, Somatotropin
  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Prolactin
  • Growth Hormone