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Somatolactogens and diabetic retinopathy

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  • Increased serum levels of GH-N, GH-V and PL have been related to the progression of DR.

  • PRL and GH-N and their receptors are locally expressed by retinal cells.

  • PRL and GH-N have angiogenic activity.

  • Suppression of GH-N is related to the regression of DR.

  • Somatolactogens isoforms called vasoinhibins suppress retinal angiogenesis.



Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is one of the most common of all diabetic complications. The number of people with DR in the United States is expected to increase to 16 million by 2050. DR is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults in many different countries, including the United States. In later DR stages, neovascularization is associated with extensive retinal capillary non-perfusion and vitreo-proliferation leading to retinal detachment. This neovascularization is orchestrated by an imbalance of growth factors in the retina from which somatolactogens (pituitary growth hormone, GH-N; placental growth hormone, GH-V; prolactin, PRL; and placental lactogen, PL, also referred as chorionic somatomammotropin, CSH), may play an important role.


Somatolactogens are a group of hormones that share many structural and functional features. They are important for physiological changes in pregnancy, for adequate development of the fetus, and in the case of GH-N, for promoting growth after birth. GH-N is synthesized by the anterior pituitary, GH-V and PL are secreted by the placenta, whereas, PRL is synthesized by the anterior pituitary and uterine decidua.

However, in recent years the expression of GH-N and PRL and their receptors have been detected in other tissues including the retina, acting as neuroprotective and pro-angiogenic agents. The relationship of GH-N and diabetic retinopathy (DR) was established many years ago when it was observed that its deficiency was related to regression of DR while an increase in serum levels of GH-N, GH-V, and PL promoted DR. While more studies are needed to define the potential implications of GH-V and PL in DR pathogenesis, it has been demonstrated that GH-N and PRL participate in DR by enhancing neovascularization. Some PRL isoforms, however, have shown an anti-angiogenic activity rather than pro-angiogenesis and appears to be PRL's main role in the regulation of retinal vasculature.


Somatolactogens are a group of hormones with a significant role in neuroprotection and angiogenesis regulation in the eye. Understanding the mechanisms of angiogenesis regulation by somatolactogens will potentially lead to the development of new drugs for DR.


© 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Growth Hormone & IGF Research



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