THE ROLE OF PROLACTIN RECEPTOR SIGNALING IN LIVER HOMEOSTASIS AND DISEASE
Functioning as a “powerhouse”, the liver adapts to the metabolic needs of the body by maintaining a homeostatic balance. Prolactin receptor (PRLR) has been found to have a copious existence in the liver. Having established a well-defined role in both reproductive and endocrine systems, the role of this transmembrane protein in hepatocytes is yet to be elucidated. Due to its abundant nature, we hypothesized that PRLR is required for maintaining hepatic homeostasis and plays a role in liver diseases. To test this hypothesis, we defined two specific aims. The first was to explore whether PRLR loss-of-function affects liver structure and function in physiological conditions. The second was to determine whether PRLR is associated with liver pathology. We deleted the Prlr gene specifically in hepatocytes using a virus-based approach and evaluated liver function, transcriptome, and activities of downstream signaling molecules. Due to the absence of PRLR, we found that the urea cycle was disrupted, concomitant with excessive accumulation of urea in the blood; 133 genes exhibited differential expression, largely associated with hepatocyte structure, metabolism, and inflammation; and the activities of STAT3 and 5 were reduced. The results signify that PRLR indeed plays a homeostatic role in the liver. We also used Prlr+/- mice to assess whether the loss of one allele of the Prlr gene alters maternal hepatic adaptations to pregnancy. As a result, in the pre-pregnancy state and during the first half of gestation, the expression of maternal hepatic PRLR protein was reduced approximately by half owing to Prlr insufficiency. However, during the second half of pregnancy, we observed compensatory upregulation of this molecule, leading to minimal interference in STAT 3 and 5 signaling and liver size. Contrary to a previous study in the breast and ovary, our results suggest that one allele of Prlr may be sufficient for the maternal liver to respond to this physiological stimulus (pregnancy). Furthermore, we examined the expression and activity of PRLR in fatty as well as cholestatic livers. Using a high fat diet, we induced non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Strikingly and for the first time, we discovered that the short isoform of PRLR (PRLR-S) was completely inactivated in response to NAFLD, whereas the long isoform remained unchanged. This finding strongly suggests the involvement of PRLR-S in lipid metabolism. We also postulate that PRLR-L may be the major regulator of STAT signaling in the liver, consistent with other reports. Lastly, we induced extrahepatic cholestasis via bile duct ligation (BDL) in mice. As this liver disease progressed, the expression of both isoforms of PRLR generally declined and was surprisingly accompanied by increased STAT 3 and 5 activity. The data suggests that PRLR participates in this disease progression, with a disconnection between PRLR signaling and STAT proteins. Collectively, our preliminary studies suggest that PRLR signaling is required to maintain liver homeostasis and more prominently, is involved in liver diseases, especially NAFLD. These findings lay a foundation for our future studies.