To determine the effect of age on pulsatile prolactin secretion, we examined prolactin pulse characteristics by cluster analysis in healthy young and old male subjects during the day and night. Pulsatile prolactin secretion was identified in all subjects during the day and night, and prolactin pulse frequency remains stable with age. Younger subjects had a significantly higher prolactin pulse amplitude, area, and peak interval during the night compared with older subjects. In contrast, daytime prolactin pulse characteristics were similar in young and old subjects. Because the major neuroregulator of prolactin is dopamine and because normal aging has been reported to be associated with reductions in hypothalamic dopamine content and effect, we determined whether the mechanism of altered day-night prolactin pulsatile secretion was due to changes in dopaminergic tone. We examined endogenous prolactin secretion after administration of the dopamine antagonist metoclopramide. Metoclopramide significantly increased mean serum prolactin concentration and prolactin pulse height and amplitude in all subjects during the day and night. However, net prolactin pulse amplitude after metoclopramide stimulation at night was significantly higher in older subjects compared with younger subjects. We conclude that prolactin pulse amplitude is blunted in elderly men at night and that daytime pulsatile prolactin secretion is unaltered by age in normal men. The mechanism for this alteration of nighttime prolactin pulsatile secretion in elderly men may be due to age-associated changes in dopaminergic regulation.
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