Prolactin receptor expression in mouse dorsal root ganglia neuronal subtypes is sex-dependent

J Neuroendocrinol. 2019 Aug;31(8):e12759. doi: 10.1111/jne.12759. Epub 2019 Jul 4.


Sensory neurones exhibit sex-dependent responsiveness to prolactin (PRL). This could contribute to sexual dimorphism in pathological pain conditions. The present study aimed to determine the mechanisms underlying sex-dependent PRL sensitivity in sensory neurones. A quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction shows that prolactin receptor (Prlr) long and short isoform mRNAs are expressed at comparable levels in female and male mouse dorsal root ganglia (DRG). In Prlrcre/+ ;Rosa26LSL-tDTomato/+ reporter mice, percentages of Prlr+ sensory neurones in female and male DRG are also similar. Characterisation of Prlr+ DRG neurones using immunohistochemistry and electrophysiology revealed that Prlr+ DRG neurones are mainly peptidergic nociceptors in females and males. However, sensory neurone type-dependent expression of Prlr is sex dimorphic. Thus, Prlr+ populations fell into three small- and two medium-large-sized sensory neuronal groups. Prlr+ DRG neurones are predominantly medium-large sized in males and are proportionally more comprised of small-sized sensory neurones in females. Specifically, Prlr+ /IB4+ /CGRP+ neurones are four- to five-fold higher in numbers in female DRG. By contrast, Prlr+ /IB4- /CGRP+ /5HT3a+ /NPYR2- are predominant in male DRG. Prlr+ /IB4- /CGRP- , Prlr+ /IB4- /CGRP+ and Prlr+ /IB4- /CGRP+ /NPYR2+ neurones are evenly encountered in female and male DRG. These differences were confirmed using an independently generated single-cell sequencing dataset. Overall, we propose a novel mechanism by which sensory neurone type-dependent expression of Prlr could explain the unique sex dimorphism in responsiveness of nociceptors to PRL.

Keywords: electrophysiology; nociception; prolactin; prolactin receptor; sensory neurones.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Ganglia, Spinal / cytology*
  • Ganglia, Spinal / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, 129 Strain
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Prolactin / genetics*
  • Receptors, Prolactin / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Receptors, Prolactin