Prolactin and dopamine: what is the connection? A review article

J Psychopharmacol. 2008 Mar;22(2 Suppl):12-9. doi: 10.1177/0269216307087148.


Dopamine (DA) holds a predominant role in the regulation of prolactin (PRL) secretion. Through a direct effect on anterior pituitary lactotrophs, DA inhibits the basally high-secretory tone of the cell. It accomplishes this by binding to D2 receptors expressed on the cell membrane of the lactotroph, activation of which results in a reduction of PRL exocytosis and gene expression by a variety of intracellular signalling mechanisms. The hypothalamic dopaminergic neurons, which provide DA to the anterior pituitary gland, are themselves regulated by feedback from PRL through a 'short-loop feedback mechanism'. A variety of other modulators of prolactin secretion act at the hypothalamic level by either disinhibition of the dopaminergic tone (e.g. serotonin, GABA, oestrogens and opioids) or by reinforcing it (e.g. substance P). All typical antipsychotic medications are associated with sustained hyperprolactinaemia due to their high affinity for the D2 receptor and their slow dissociation from the receptor once bound, but atypicals differ quite dramatically in their propensity to cause prolonged high prolactin levels. Of those atypicals that are associated with prolactin elevation, the main causative factor appears to be a higher peripheral-to-central dopamine receptor potency of either the parent drug or its active metabolite (e.g. risperidone, 9-hydroxy-risperidone and amisulpride). Antipsychotics that easily cross the blood-brain barrier and exhibit fast dissociation from the dopamine receptor once bound do not result in sustained hyperprolactinaemia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hyperprolactinemia / chemically induced*
  • Hyperprolactinemia / metabolism
  • Lactotrophs / drug effects
  • Lactotrophs / metabolism*
  • Prolactin / chemistry
  • Prolactin / metabolism*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Prolactin
  • Dopamine