Inhibin, a specific and potent polypeptide inhibitor of the secretion of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), of gonadal origin and thus a potential contraceptive, may constitute a missing link in the mechanism controlling the differential secretion of the pituitary gonadotropins. Inhibin-like bioactivity has been reported in various fluids and extracts of testis and in ovarian follicular fluid. Although there have been several attempts to purify inhibin from seminal plasma, purification from follicular fluid has been more successful (refs 14-16; for review see ref. 17). We have previously isolated two forms (A and B) of inhibin from porcine follicular fluid. Each form comprised two dissimilar subunits of relative molecular mass (Mr) 18,000 (18K, referred to here as the alpha-subunit) and 14K (the beta-subunit), crosslinked by one or more disulphide bridge(s). Forms A and B differ in the N-terminal sequence of their 14K subunit. Preliminary structural characterization of porcine and bovine ovarian inhibins shows that they have similar properties. Here, we have used the N-terminal amino-acid sequence data on the subunits of each inhibin to identify cloned complementary DNAs encoding the biosynthetic precursors and report that inhibins are the product of a gene family that also includes transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) and whose structural organization is similar to that of pituitary and placental glycoprotein hormones.