Prolactin secretion in normal adults is characterized by periods of episodic secretion which increase in magnitude during sleep. In this study, we report the 24-h mean prolactin concentrations, prolactin secretory patterns, and associated pituitary hormone function in nine patients (seven women and two men) with hyperprolactinemia of diverse etiologies. Four of the women and one of the men had clinically demonstrable pituitary tumors, one boy had a hypothalamic tumor, and the three other women had “functional” hyperprolactinemia. The 24-h mean prolactin concentrations derived from averaging the 20-min interval samples for 24 h ranged from 28.6 to 1,220 ng/ml. The plasma prolactin patterns in these patients showed persistence of episodic secretion in all and loss of the normal sleep-wake difference in plasma prolactin in seven of nine. Three of the patients with galactorrhea and comparable 24-h mean prolactin concentrations (58.3, 59.7, and 64.3 ng/ml) showed similar prolactin secretory patterns despite different etiologic mechanisms. Evaluation of the secretory patterns of luteinizing hormone (LH) in these patients showed loss of normal pulsatile LH release and a low 24-h mean LH concentration in the patient with the pituitary tumor, while the two patients without clinically demonstrable pituitary tumors (“post-pill” galactorrhea and “idiopathic” galactorrhea) showed normal LH secretory patterns and 24-h mean LH concentrations. The 24-h mean cortisol concentrations and secretory patterns were normal in five of the seven patients who had these parameters measured. The patient with the hypothalamic tumor had a low 24-h mean cortisol concentration and production rate and absent response to metyrapone. The patient with “idiopathic” galactorrhea had an elevated 24-h mean cortisol concentration but normal cortisol production rate and urinary 17-hydroxycorticoid excretion. Growth hormone secretion was abnormal in four of the patients (one with the hypothalamic tumor and three with pituitary tumors). Thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) administration in four patients resulted in normal TSH release in two patients (one of whom developed galactorrhea after the test), an absent response in the patient with the hypothalamic tumor, and a blunted response in one of the women with a pituitary tumor. The two men had low 24-h mean plasma testosterone concentrations (69 and 30 ng/100 ml) and symptoms of impotence and loss of libido. Five of the women (four with pituitary tumors and one with Chiari-Frommel syndrome) had either low 24-h mean LH concentrations, abnormal LH secretory patterns, or both. These data indicate that patients with hyperprolactinemia encompassing a varied etiological range frequently show loss of the normal sleep-associated increase in prolactin secretion as well as abnormalities in the regulation of the other hypothalamic pituitary-regulated hormones. The finding that the abnormalities in LH, growth hormone, thyrotropin, and cortisol (adrenocorticotrophic) secretion were almost uniformly confined to the patients with the clinically demonstrable hypothalamic or pituitary tumors suggests that the size of the lesion is the critical factor.


R. M. Boyar, S. Kapen, J. W. Finkelstein, M. Perlow, J. F. Sassin, D. K. Fukushima, E. D. Weitzman, Leon Hellman


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