Fos expression in the female rat brain during the proestrous prolactin surge and following mating.Neuroendocrinology. 1999 Apr; 69(4):281-9.N
A prolactin (PRL) surge occurs in the female rat during proestrus in response to elevated estradiol levels. The elevated release of ovarian steroids on the day of proestrus is also associated with sexual receptivity. Mating triggers twice-daily PRL surges that supplant the proestrous PRL surge and are responsible for maintaining luteal function during the first half of pregnancy. In order to understand the neuronal mechanisms controlling the proestrous- and mating-induced PRL surges, we examined patterns of Fos expression by immunocytochemistry in specific brain regions as a measure of neuronal activity. Intact female rats were sacrificed at 09.00, 15.00, and 18.00 h on the day of proestrus and the day of diestrus. Brain tissues were also collected at 21.00 h on the day of proestrus from rats receiving intromissions or mounts from males or taken directly from their homecage. On the day of proestrus, the number of neurons expressing Fos in the medial preoptic area (mPOA), medial amygdaloid nucleus (mAMYG), and ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus (VMH) was few and was associated with low plasma PRL levels at 09.00 h; however, the number of Fos-positive cells in these brain regions significantly increased at 15.00 and 18.00 h when the proestrous PRL surge occurred. Mating during the evening of proestrus resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of Fos-positive cells in the mPOA, mAMYG, and VMH as well as in the arcuate nucleus (ARC). Nonmated animals in diestrus showed low and unchanged PRL levels and Fos expression in all the brain areas throughout the day. These results suggest that the mPOA, mAMYG, VMH and ARC may be important brain sites for the integration of stimuli associated with proestrous- and mating-induced PRL surges.