Photoperiodically‐lnduced Cycles in the Secretion of Prolactin in Hypothalamo‐Pituitary Disconnected Rams: Evidence for Translation of the Melatonin Signal in the Pituitary Gland

G. A. Lincoln, I. J. Clarke

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Long term changes in the secretion of prolactin were monitored in groups of hypothalamo‐pituitary disconnected rams (HPD rams, n = 8) and control rams (HPD sham‐operated and unoperated, n = 8) while exposed to an artificial lighting regimen of alternating 16‐weekly periods of long days (16L : 8D) and short days (8L : 16D) for 72 weeks, and during a treatment with subcutaneous constant‐release implants of melatonin under long days. The HPD rams showed all the clinical characteristics of complete pituitary disconnection (diabetes insipidus, gonadal regression and slight obesity), and were unresponsive to a range of provocation tests (exposure to a barking sheep dog, cannulation of the jugular vein, injection of serotonin and NMDA) which caused acute changes in the blood plasma concentrations of prolactin in the controls. Nevertheless, there was a clearly defined cycle in the blood concentrations of prolactin in the HPD rams related to the imposed lighting regimen with values 10‐fold higher under long days compared to short days (HPD mean ± SEM: 90.1 ± 24.7 vs 9.4 ± 2.0 μl, long vs short day respectively, P < 0.001). The temporal pattern was very similar to that observed in the controls, although the concentrations of prolactin were higher in the HPD rams and more variable (control mean ± SEM: 55.6 ± 3.6 vs 3.0±0.5 μl, long vs short day, P < 0.001). There was a corresponding cycle in the growth and moulting of the wool in the HPD rams consistent with a biological response to the photoperiodically‐induced changes in the secretion of prolactin. The diurnal rhythm in the blood concentrations of prolactin was absent in the HPD rams, but there was a normal rhythm in the secretion of melatonin. The treatment of the animals with constant‐release implants of melatonin under long days caused a marked decrease in the blood concentrations of prolactin in both the HPD and control rams. The overall conclusion is that the endogenously generated daily melatonin signal which encodes daylength acts directly in the pituitary gland to mediate the effects of photo‐period on the secretion of prolactin. The photo‐period transduction pathway thus by‐passes the hypothalamus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-260
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroendocrinology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • daylength
  • melatonin
  • pars distalis
  • pars tuberalis
  • prolactin
  • seasonal cycles
  • sheep

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