Inhibins, activins, and follistatins: gonadal proteins modulating the secretion of follicle-stimulating hormone

Endocr Rev. 1988 May;9(2):267-93. doi: 10.1210/edrv-9-2-267.


The endocrine system displays highly complex interactions among its components. Excesses or deficiencies of hormone production in one gland may alter the production of hormones by others. Several physiological functions are affected by a balance among hormones acting either together or in sequence. For example, FSH secretion has been demonstrated to be affected by hypothalamic influences upon the anterior pituitary through a specific releasing factor, the decapeptide LRF. This decapeptide stimulates the release of both LH and FSH by the pituitary, and these gonadotropins cause the production of steroids by the testes and the ovaries. Gonadal steroids in the blood act directly upon the anterior pituitary to regulate the output of gonadotropins as originally proposed by Moore and Price in 1932 (3), or act indirectly upon the hypothalamus to adjust the output of pituitary hormones in accordance with the needs of the reproductive system. However, such a simple negative feedback of steroids on the hypothalamic-hypophysial axis cannot account for the differential secretion of FSH observed during the estrus cycle. Therefore, the concept that a gonadal protein, inhibin, specifically regulates FSH secretion was proposed. This concept has now been validated by the isolation and characterization of two forms of inhibin that exert their effects on the pituitary to suppress FSH secretion both in vitro and probably in vivo. Furthermore, the production of inhibin is stimulated by FSH, thus establishing a reciprocal relationship between the release of FSH and inhibin. Since hormones in the body are controlled through interlocking complexes of factors, a variety of secondary factors, in one way or another, may also exert influence on the regulation of FSH secretion. As an example, TGF beta, a protein growth factor found in all tissues, promotes the basal secretion of FSH by the pituitary and enhances FSH-mediated estrogen production by the granulosa cells. It is therefore not surprising that two forms of a novel protein, activin and activin A, isolated from the same FF from which inhibins were isolated, show bioactivities similar to those of TGF beta. These activins are formed as dimers of the two beta-subunits of inhibin, probably as a result of the rearrangement of the gene products. This novel observation that different arrangements of gene products can result in opposite biological activities may thus reflect a wholly different level of control of FSH secretion. If such a phenomenon occurs in other biosystems, it would represent an important form of homeostatic mechanism for controlling biologically active substances.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Activins
  • Animals
  • Biological Assay
  • Chemical Phenomena
  • Chemistry
  • Female
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone / metabolism*
  • Follistatin
  • Glycoproteins / analysis
  • Glycoproteins / physiology
  • Gonads / physiology
  • Growth
  • Humans
  • Inhibins / analysis
  • Inhibins / isolation & purification
  • Inhibins / physiology*
  • Male
  • Molecular Weight
  • Oligopeptides*
  • Peptides / analysis
  • Peptides / physiology*
  • Thymus Extracts / analysis
  • Thymus Extracts / physiology


  • Follistatin
  • Glycoproteins
  • Oligopeptides
  • Peptides
  • Thymus Extracts
  • activin B
  • Activins
  • myelopeptides
  • Inhibins
  • T-activin
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone