Follistatin is a glycosylated single-chain protein originally isolated from porcine follicular fluid. It specifically inhibits the secretion of FSH from the pituitary. We have now isolated and characterized a cDNA for rat follistatin from the PMSG-stimulated ovarian library. The deduced amino acid sequence of the rat follistatin precursor is highly homologous (greater than 98%) to porcine and human follistatins including potential Asn-glycosylation sites. The genomic clone encoding rat follistatin was also isolated and revealed that the exon and intron organization of the follistatin gene structure is conserved among rat, porcine, and human. Northern analyses in rat tissues demonstrated that the follistatin gene is expressed not only in the ovary but also in the kidney and brain. In the immature rat ovary, the follistatin mRNA level is stimulated by PMSG injection (20 IU/rat), but is not affected by human CG (10 IU/rat) after PMSG administration. In situ hybridization studies revealed that the mRNA level in the ovary was low in primordial follicles, but dramatically increased in the granulosa cells of the growing secondary and tertiary follicles and then decreased in the mature preovulatory follicles. A strong follistatin mRNA signal was observed over the collecting tubules of the outer medulla of the kidney, and a weak to moderate signal was detected in brain. The broad tissue distribution of follistatin mRNA strongly suggests other physiological roles for follistatin besides the inhibition of pituitary FSH release.