Activins and inhibins in endocrine and other tumors

Endocr Rev. 2001 Dec;22(6):836-58. doi: 10.1210/edrv.22.6.0450.


Inhibin and activin are members of the TGF beta superfamily of growth and differentiation factors. They were first identified as gonadal-derived regulators of pituitary FSH and were subsequently assigned multiple actions in a wide range of tissues. More recently, the inhibin alpha subunit was considered as a tumor suppressor based on functional studies employing transgenic mouse models. This review evaluates the functional and molecular evidence that the inhibin alpha subunit is a tumor suppressor in endocrine cancers. The evaluation highlights the discrepant results from the human and mouse studies, as well as the differences between endocrine tumor types. In addition, we examine the evidence that the activin-signaling pathway is tumor suppressive and identify organ-specific differences in the actions and putative roles of this pathway in endocrine tumors. In summary, there is a considerable body of evidence to support the role of inhibins and activins in endocrine-related tumors. Future studies will define the mechanisms by which inhibins and activins contribute to the process of initiation, promotion, or progression of endocrine-related cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activins / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Endocrine Gland Neoplasms*
  • Inhibins / physiology*
  • Neoplasms*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins


  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • inhibin-alpha subunit
  • Activins
  • Inhibins