Inhibin and activin in embryonic and fetal development in ruminants.

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Inhibin, activin and follistatin are protein hormones with diverse physiological roles. The involvement of inhibin in the regulation of pituitary FSH production and secretion in adult males and non-pregnant females is well established. However, it is unlikely that inhibin plays a similar role in pregnancy in ruminants. Inhibin and activin molecules show a high degree of structural similarity to potent growth and differentiation factors of the transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) superfamily of peptides and their localization in a range of embryonic and fetal tissues indicates that they may thus play a role in development. Furthermore, the demonstration that follistatin is also present in a number of embryonic and fetal tissues and fluids has further implications for the actions of activin to which it binds. The role of inhibin, activin and follistatin in early development has yet to be established since gene knockout experiments have so far proved inconclusive. During mid- and late gestation, high concentrations of inhibin are found in the testes and plasma of male fetuses of sheep and cattle. Inhibin may play a role in regulating pituitary FSH release in late pregnancy, but the very high concentrations of this hormone in ovine fetal testes and in male fetal plasma compared with that observed in the fetal ovary and female fetal plasma has yet to be explained. The recent observation of high concentrations of inhibin, activin and follistatin in amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus is intriguing. Excretion via urine or lung liquid is partly responsible for the presence of these proteins in amniotic fluid. The fetal membranes and the placenta are also possible sources. It remains to be established whether these proteins constitute an inactive pool of secreted hormone or whether they have other actions in this fetal compartment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-186
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of reproduction and fertility. Supplement
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1995

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