Effects of High-Fat Diet on Stress Response in Male and Female Wildtype and Prolactin Knockout Mice

PLoS One. 2016 Nov 28;11(11):e0166416. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0166416. eCollection 2016.


Prolactin (PRL) is well characterized for its roles in initiation and maintenance of lactation, and it also suppresses stress-induced responses. Feeding a high-fat diet (HFD) disrupts activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Whether PRL regulates HPA axis activation under HFD feeding is not clear. Male and female wildtype (WT) and PRL knockout (KO) mice were fed either a standard low-fat diet (LFD) or HFD for 12 weeks. Circulating corticosterone (CORT) levels were measured before, during, and after mice were subjected to an acute restraint stress or remained in their home cages as no stress controls. HFD feeding increased leptin levels, but the increase was lower in KO than in WT mice. All stressed female groups and only LFD-fed stressed males had elevated CORT levels compared to their no stress same-sex counterparts regardless of genotype. These results indicated that HFD consumption blunted the HPA axis response to acute stress in males but not females. Additionally, basal hypothalamic CRH content was lower in HFD than LFD males, but was similar among female groups. Furthermore, although basal CORT levels were similar among KO and WT groups, CORT levels were higher in KO mice than their WT counterparts during stress, suggesting that loss of PRL led to greater HPA axis activation. Basal PRL receptor mRNA levels in the choroid plexus were higher in HFD than LFD same-sex counterparts, suggesting activation of central PRL's action by HFD feeding in both males and females. Current results confirmed PRL's roles in suppression of the stress-induced HPA axis activation. Although HFD feeding activated central PRL's action in both sexes, only the male HPA axis was dampened by HFD feeding.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Composition
  • Body Weight
  • Choroid Plexus / metabolism
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Diet, Fat-Restricted
  • Diet, High-Fat*
  • Energy Intake
  • Female
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Leptin / blood
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Prolactin / deficiency
  • Prolactin / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptors, Prolactin / genetics
  • Receptors, Prolactin / metabolism
  • Stress, Physiological*


  • Leptin
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Prolactin
  • Prolactin
  • Corticosterone