Autocrine/paracrine regulation of pituitary function by activin, inhibin and follistatin

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2004 Oct 15;225(1-2):29-36. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2004.02.010.


The precise regulation of the anterior pituitary is achieved by the cell-specific and combined actions of central, peripheral and local factors. Activins, inhibins, and follistatins were first discovered as gonadal factors with actions on FSH production from pituitary gonadotropes. With the realization that these factors are expressed in a wide array of tissues, including the pituitary, it became apparent that the functional importance of activins, inhibins, and follistatins extends beyond the reproductive axis and that they often exert their effects by autocrine/paracrine mechanisms. As members of the TGF-beta superfamily, activins and inhibins control and orchestrate many physiological processes and are vital for the development, the growth, and the functional integrity of most tissues, including the pituitary. Activins exert effects on multiple pituitary cell types but the best-characterized pituitary targets of the autocrine/paracrine function of activins are the gonadotropes. The autocrine/paracrine function of the activin-binding proteins, follistatins, constitutes an important local mechanism to modulate activin bioactivity while the restricted actions of gonadal inhibins to betaglycan-expressing gonadotropes provides a secondary mode of regulation of cell-specific actions of activins. The aim of this review is to highlight and evaluate experimental evidence that supports the roles of activins, inhibins, and follistatins as autocrine, paracrine, and/or endocrine modulators of the pituitary.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Activins / genetics
  • Activins / physiology
  • Animals
  • Autocrine Communication / physiology
  • Cell Communication / physiology*
  • Follistatin / physiology
  • Gonadal Hormones / genetics
  • Gonadal Hormones / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Inhibins / genetics
  • Inhibins / physiology
  • Paracrine Communication / physiology
  • Pituitary Gland / metabolism
  • Pituitary Gland / physiology*


  • Follistatin
  • Gonadal Hormones
  • Activins
  • Inhibins