Pituitary gonadotropins mediate part of their effects on ovarian function via local hormones and growth factors produced by granulosa cells. Activins and inhibins are among these factors, and they have often opposite effects on various components of the reproductive system. The purpose of this study was to investigate the regulation of ovarian activin A secretion using cultured human ovarian granulosa-luteal cells as a model. The granulosa-luteal cells, obtained from women taking part in an in vitro fertilization program, were cultured and treated with FSH, LH, 8-bromo cAMP (8-BrcAMP, a protein kinase A activator) and 12-O-tetradecanoyl phorbol-13-acetate (TPA, a protein kinase C activator). Conditioned cell culture media were analyzed for activin A, inhibin A and progesterone concentrations with specific enzyme immunoassays. FSH and LH (1-100 IU/l) increased activin A secretion with 24 h of treatment (to 132% and 253% of control respectively; P<0.05 for both), but their effects were inhibitory in 48-h treatments (26% and 16% decreases respectively; P<0.05 for both). In the same experiments, FSH and LH increased inhibin A and progesterone secretion after both 24 and 48 h of treatment. 8-BrcAMP (0.1-100 muM) increased activin A in 24- and 48-h experiments (to 206% and 148% of control respectively; P<0.01 for both). Inhibin A and progesterone secretion were stimulated by 8-BrcAMP time- and dose-dependently. TPA increased activin A secretion dose-dependently (0.1-100 ng/ml) in both 24- and 48-h experiments. At 100 ng/ml concentration, it increased activin A up to 61-fold and inhibin A up to 16-fold of control in 24-h experiments. We conclude that gonadotropins regulate immunoreactive activin A secretion biphasically in cultured human granulosa-luteal cells: initial stimulation is followed by inhibition. In contrast, gonadotropins increase inhibin A and progesterone secretion continuously. Consequently, continuing gonadotropin stimulation leads to a decreasing activin:inhibin ratio, which may have a significant role in the local fine-tuning of ovarian steroidogenesis.
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