The prolactin (PRL) receptor (R), a member of the cytokine hemopoietin receptor superfamily, has been shown to activate early differentiation steps along the erythroid pathway. In particular PRL, a product of bone marrow stroma, induces functional erythropoietin (EPO)-R on CD34+ hemopoietic progenitors. In this study, expression of EPO-R mRNA and responsiveness to EPO were assessed on enriched hemopoietic progenitor cells (HPC) from seven hyperprolactinemic and three normoprolactinemic patients and two normal subjects. Expression of EPO-R mRNA by semiquantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) was found in HPC of four out of seven hyperprolactinemic patients but not in normoprolactinemic patients or normal donors. Development of EPO-dependent Colony Forming Unit-Erythroid (CFU-E) colonies in semi-solid medium was observed only in hyperprolactinemic patients (six out of seven). A much higher number of CFU-E colonies was observed in the four patients with a positive EPO-R message. We conclude from these data that abnormally high levels of PRL may increase the number of EPO-responsive hemopoietic precursors in vivo as they do in vitro. Since hyperprolactinemia associates in these patients with depressed EPO production, it may be regarded as a compensatory mechanism for the reduced availability of the hemopoietic factor.
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