A recent study from our laboratory demonstrated a strong upregulation of activin expression during cutaneous wound healing. To further analyze the role of activin A in skin morphogenesis and wound repair, we generated transgenic mice that overexpress activin A under the control of the keratin 14 promoter. The latter targets expression of transgenes to the basal, proliferating layer of the epidermis. Hetero- as well as homozygous transgenic animals were viable and fertile. However, they were smaller than non-transgenic littermates and they had smaller ears and shorter tails. Histological analysis of their skin revealed dermal hyperthickening, mainly due to the replacement of fatty tissue by connective tissue, and an increase in suprabasal, partially differentiated epidermal layers. After cutaneous injury, a strong enhancement of granulation tissue formation was observed. Furthermore, the extent of re-epithelialization was increased in some of the wounds. These data demonstrate that activin A is a potent stimulator of the wound healing process. Using an in vivo model of local brain injury, we found that activin A also plays a significant role in the early cellular response to neuronal damage. Expression of activin mRNA and protein is markedly upregulated within a few hours of injury. If applied exogenously, recombinant activin A is capable of rescuing neurons from acute cell death. Studying the interaction between bFGF, a well-established neuroprotective agent, which is currently being tested in stroke patients, and activin A, we arrived at the unexpected conclusion that it is the strong induction of activin A by bFGF which endows the latter with its beneficial actions in patients. These findings suggest that the development of substances directly targeting activin expression or receptor binding should offer new possibilities in the acute treatment of stroke and brain trauma.