Low prolactin levels are associated with visceral adipocyte hypertrophy and insulin resistance in humans



Low prolactin (PRL) serum levels are associated with glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes in adults, and with metabolic syndrome and obesity in children. In obese rodents, PRL treatment promotes insulin sensitivity by maintaining adipose tissue fitness, and lack of PRL signaling exacerbates obesity-derived metabolic alterations. Since adipose tissue dysfunction is a key factor triggering metabolic alterations, we evaluated whether PRL serum levels are associated with adipocyte hypertrophy (a marker of adipose tissue dysfunction), insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome in lean, overweight, and obese adult men and women.


Samples of serum and adipose tissue from 40 subjects were obtained to evaluate insulin resistance index (homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR)), signs of metabolic syndrome (glucose levels, high-density lipoproteins, triglycerides, blood pressure, and waist circumference), as well as adipocyte size and gene expression in fat.


Lower PRL serum levels are associated with adipocyte hypertrophy, in visceral but not in subcutaneous fat, and with a higher HOMA-IR. Furthermore, low systemic PRL levels together with high waist circumference predict an elevated HOMA-IR whereas low serum PRL values in combination with high blood glucose predicts visceral adipocyte hypertrophy. In agreement, visceral fat from insulin resistant subjects shows reduced expression of prolactin receptor. However, there is no association between PRL levels and obesity or signs of metabolic syndrome.


Our results support that low levels of PRL are markers of visceral fat dysfunction and insulin resistance, and suggest the potential therapeutic value of medications elevating PRL levels to help maintain metabolic homeostasis.

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We thank Fernando López-Barrera, Daniel Mondragon and Antonio Prado for excellent technical assistance, Jessica Norris for critically editing the manuscript, and Teresita Ortiz-Ortiz (Hospital General de Querétaro, SESEQ) for supporting patient recruitment logistics. A. Ponce-López was a Master’s student from Maestría en Ciencias (Neurobiología), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and received CONACYT fellowship 569958. This study was supported by the National Council of Science and Technology of Mexico (CONACYT) grant 261168 to Y.M.

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Correspondence to Yazmín Macotela.

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Ponce, A.J., Galván-Salas, T., Lerma-Alvarado, R.M. et al. Low prolactin levels are associated with visceral adipocyte hypertrophy and insulin resistance in humans. Endocrine (2020) doi:10.1007/s12020-019-02170-x

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  • Prolactin
  • Insulin resistance
  • Adipocyte
  • Adipose tissue