Prolactin Regulates Pain Responses via a Female-Selective Nociceptor-Specific Mechanism

iScience. 2019 Oct 25:20:449-465. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2019.09.039. Epub 2019 Oct 1.


Many clinical and preclinical studies report an increased prevalence and severity of chronic pain among females. Here, we identify a sex-hormone-controlled target and mechanism that regulates dimorphic pain responses. Prolactin (PRL), which is involved in many physiologic functions, induces female-specific hyperalgesia. A PRL receptor (Prlr) antagonist in the hind paw or spinal cord substantially reduced hyperalgesia in inflammatory models. This effect was mimicked by sensory neuronal ablation of Prlr. Although Prlr mRNA is expressed equally in female and male peptidergic nociceptors and central terminals, Prlr protein was found only in females and PRL-induced excitability was detected only in female DRG neurons. PRL-induced excitability was reproduced in male Prlr+ neurons after prolonged treatment with estradiol but was prevented with addition of a translation inhibitor. We propose a novel mechanism for female-selective regulation of pain responses, which is mediated by Prlr signaling in sensory neurons via sex-dependent control of Prlr mRNA translation.

Keywords: Female Reproductive Endocrinology; Sensory Neuroscience.