It is known that aging is associated with alterations in hypothalamic and pituitary functions. In the present study, we have undertaken a quantitative immunohistochemical assessment of the lactotroph cell population as well as prolactin (PRL) secretion, in male and female rats of different ages. Pituitaries from young (3 months), old (20 months) and senescent (29 months) male and female Sprague-Dawley rats were processed for the immunohistochemical detection of lactotrophs. Serum PRL was measured by a homologous RIA. Additionally, the in vitro PRL secretory activity was estimated by perifusion of pituitary cells from senescent animals. Analysis of morphometric parameters revealed age-related changes of PRL cell population in animals of both sexes. The cell density (CD), surface density (SD) and volume density (VD) decreased with age in both male and female rats. However, CD as well as SD appeared to have increased in females when compared to males, either in young or old animals, while VD was higher only in old females. The pituitaries of senescent females displayed chromophobic microadenomas on a background of diffuse PRL cell hyperplasia. Prolactin serum levels showed a marked increase with age in females, but only a modest elevation in males. In senescent females, PRL production per cell was reduced. We conclude that in rats, there exists a clear sexual dimorphism in the age-related changes of pituitary PRL cells.