Evidence has shown that epidermal growth factor (EGF) and transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF alpha) are present in the anterior pituitary as well as the hypothalamus, and that EGF can influence the function of pituitary cells, particularly corticotropes in vivo and in vitro. However, little is known about their exact functional roles and how they are regulated in these two areas. The present study was designed to determine if EGF and TGF alpha messenger RNA (mRNA) are expressed in the rat anterior pituitary and hypothalamus and how stress conditions such as cold, ether, or restraint affect their local expression. A sensitive mRNA detection method, the ribonuclease protection assay, detected both EGF and TGF alpha mRNA in the rat anterior pituitary and hypothalamus. Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) further showed the presence of EGF and TGF alpha mRNA in these two areas and several other rat tissues (submandibular gland, liver, kidney, lung cerebral cortex, and testis). No TGF alpha mRNA was found in the kidney, however. EGF mRNA was up-regulated in the anterior pituitary after 30 min acute cold stress (CS) and restrainer-restraint stress (RS) but not 30 min after ether stress (2 min, ES), novelty stress (NS), or tape-restraint stress (TS). Further analysis showed that EGF mRNA expression decreased after 1 h CS (1C) and then increased after 3 h CS (3C). In contrast, TGF alpha mRNA in the anterior pituitary and hypothalamus and hypothalamic EGF mRNA did not show significant changes in response to either acute stresses (CS, ES, RS, TS, NS) or longer CS (1C, 3C). Our results suggest that 1) EGF, is up-regulated after some stresses; 2) increased pituitary EGF mRNA in response to stresses varies with the type of stress; and 3) pituitary TGF alpha and hypothalamic EGF and TGF α may be not involved in the stress response.
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