The discovery of activin and inhibins as modulators of the hypothalamal-pituitary-gonadal axis has set the foundation for understanding their central importance to many facets of development and disease. This review contains an overview of the processes and cell types that are central to testis development and spermatogenesis and then provides an update focussed on information gathered over the past 5years to address new concepts about how these proteins function to control testis development in fetal and juvenile life. Current knowledge about the interactive nature of the transforming growth factor-beta (TGFbeta) superfamily signalling network is applied to recent findings about activins and inhibins in the testis. Information about the regulated synthesis of signalling components and signalling regulators in the testis is integrated with new concepts that demonstrate their functional significance. The importance of activin bioactivity levels or dosage in controlling balanced growth of spermatogonial cells and their niche at different stages of testis development is highlighted.