Prolactin, immunoregulation, and autoimmune diseases

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 1991 Apr;20(5):273-84. doi: 10.1016/0049-0172(91)90028-x.


Cells of the immune system synthesize prolactin and express mRNA and receptors for that hormone. Interleukin 1, interleukin 6, gamma interferon, tumor necrosis factor, platelet activator factor, and substance P participate in the release of prolactin. This hormone is involved in the pathogenesis of adjuvant arthritis and restores immunocompetence in experimental models. In vitro studies suggest that lymphocytes are an important target tissue for circulating prolactin. Prolactin antibodies inhibit lymphocyte proliferation. Prolactin is comitogenic with concanavalin A and induces interleukin 2 receptors on the surface of lymphocytes. Prolactin stimulates ornithine decarboxylase and activates protein kinase C, which are pivotal enzymes in the differentiation, proliferation, and function of lymphocytes. Cyclosporine A interferes with prolactin binding to its receptors on lymphocytes. Hyperprolactinemia has been found in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. Fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and low back pain patients present a hyperprolactinemic response to thyrotropin-releasing hormone. Experimental autoimmune uveitis, as well as patients with uveitis whether or not associated with spondyloarthropathies, and patients with psoriatic arthritis may respond to bromocriptine treatment. Suppression of circulating prolactin by bromocriptine appears to improve the immunosuppressive effect of cyclosporine A with significantly less toxicity. Prolactin may also be a new marker of rejection in heart-transplant patients. This body of evidence may have an impact in the study of rheumatic disorders, especially connective tissue diseases. A role for prolactin in autoimmune diseases remains to be demonstrated.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Experimental / etiology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / etiology*
  • Cytokines / physiology
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / physiology
  • Lymphocytes / physiology
  • Prolactin / physiology*
  • Protein Kinase C / metabolism


  • Cytokines
  • Prolactin
  • Protein Kinase C