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Pituitary FSH is released by a heterodimer of the β-subunits from the two forms of inhibin


Inhibin is a gonadal protein that specifically inhibits the secretion of pituitary follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). Two forms of inhibin (A and B) have been purified from porcine follicular fluid1 and characterized as heterodimers of relative molecular mass (Mr) 32,000 (ref. 2). Each inhibin is comprised of an identical α-subunit of Mr 18,000 and a distinct but related β-subunit of Mr 13,800–14,700 linked by interchain disulphide bond(s). Throughout the purification of inhibins, we consistently observed two fractions which stimulated the secretion of pituitary FSH. We report here the isolation of one of the FSH-releasing proteins; it has a Mr of 24,000 and its N-terminal sequences up to residue 32 are identical to those of each β-subunit of inhibins A and B. In the presence of reducing agents, SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis resolves the FSH-releasing substance into two subunits which are identical in their migration behaviour to the reduced β-subunits of inhibins A and B. Based on the N-terminal sequence data and Mr of the intact and reduced molecules, we propose that the FSH-releasing substance, which is active in picomolar concentrations, is a heterodimeric protein composed of the two β-subunits of inhibins A and B linked by interchain disulphide bond(s). The structural organization of the FSH-releasing substance is homologous to that of transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β)3, which also possesses FSH-releasing activity in the same bioassay4. We suggest that the substance be called activin to signify the fact that it has opposite biological effects to inhibin.

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Ling, N., Ying, SY., Ueno, N. et al. Pituitary FSH is released by a heterodimer of the β-subunits from the two forms of inhibin. Nature 321, 779–782 (1986).

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