Prolactin (PRL) has one of the broadest ranges of functions of any vertebrate hormone, and plays a critical role in regulating aspects of reproduction in widely divergent lineages. However, while PRL structure, mode of action and functions have been well-characterised in mammals, studies of other vertebrate lineages remain incomplete. As the most diverse group of vertebrates, fish offer a particularly valuable model system for the study of the evolution of reproductive endocrine function. Here, we review the current state of knowledge on the role of prolactin in fish reproduction, which extends to migration, reproductive development and cycling, brood care behaviour, pregnancy, and nutrient provisioning to young.
We also highlight significant gaps in knowledge and advocate a specific bidirectional research methodology including both observational and manipulative experiments. Focusing research efforts towards the thorough characterisation of a restricted number of reproductively diverse fish models will help to provide the foundation necessary for a more explicitly evolutionary analysis of PRL function.