A Mathematical Model for the Mating-Induced Prolactin Rhythm of Female Rats

R. Bertram, M. Egli, N. Toporikova, and M. E. Freeman

For the first ten days of pregnancy and the first 12 days of pseudopregnancy, the secretion of prolactin (PRL) from pituitary lactotrophs is rhythmic, with two surges per day. This rhythm can also be triggered by bolus injection of oxytocin (OT). We describe a mathematical model for the initiation, maintenance, and termination of the OT-induced PRL rhythm. In our model, the mechanism for this circadian rhythm is mutual interaction between lactotrophs and neuroendocrine dopamine (DA) neurons. This rhythm is, under normal lighting conditions, entrained by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) but persits in the absence of input from the SCN. We postulate that OT injection triggers the rhythm by activating a population of bistable hypothalamic neurons that innervate and inhibit DA neurons. The bistable nature of these neurons allows them to act as a memory device, maintaining the rhythm long after OT has been cleared from the blood. The mechanism for this memory device and the arguments supporting it are detailed with computer simulations. Finally, we consider potential targets for a rhythm-terminating factor and make predictions that may be used to determine which mechanism is operational in terminating the OT- or mating-induced PRL rhythm.