The pituitary gland in pregnancy: A clinicopathologic and immunohistochemical study of 69 cases

B. W. Scheithauer, T. Sano, K. T. Kovacs, William Francis Young, N. Ryan, R. V. Randall

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213 Scopus citations


A histologic and immunocytochemical study of 69 autopsy-obtained pituitaries from women who died during pregnancy, after abortion, or in the postpartum period revealed an accumulation of large chromophobic to slightly acidophilic and periodic acid-Schiff-negative pregnancy cells that were immunoreactive for prolactin but not for other pituitary hormones. This increase in the numer of prolactin cells was confirmed by cell counts. Thus, pregnancy cells are capable of prolactin production. The finding of mitotic figures in such cells supports the view that they arise by multiplication from preexisting prolactin cells. With use of 'mirrir section' techniques, no mammosomatotrophs (cells immunoreactive for growth hormone and prolactin) were identified. Hyperplasia of prolactin cells was evident at 1 month of pregnancy and gradually disappeared within several months after delivery or abortion: the process of involution seemed to be retarded in one lactating patient investigated. In some pituitaries, the accumulation of prolactin cells was so extensive that the hyperplastic foci resembled microadenomas. Another striking change in the pituitaries of pregnant women was appreciable reduction of immunostaining of gonadotropic cells, a process that was reversible as soon as 1 month after delivery. Among the 69 pituitaries studied, 8 noninvasive microadenomas (12%) were encountered (7 contained prolactin only and 1 was plurihormonal). Prolactin-producing adenomas were no more numerous or larger than were similar tumors encountered in nonpregnant women or normal men; thus, pregnancy neither initiates formation of pituitary adenomas nor accelerates their growth. In the pituitaries that harbored prolactin-producing adenomas, massive pregnancy cell hyperplasia was evident outside the tumor; thus, prolactin production by adenoma cells did not seem to suppress the proliferation of prolactin-containing pregnancy cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)461-474
Number of pages14
JournalMayo Clinic Proceedings
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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