Although originally characterised as proteins involved in the control of reproductive function, activins, and to a lesser degree inhibins, are also important regulators of homeostasis in extragonadal tissues. Accordingly, disrupted inhibin/activin expression can have detrimental effects not only for fertility and fecundity, but also for the regulation of muscle, fat and bone mass. Indeed, only recently, two complementary mouse models of inhibin designed to lack bioactivity/responsiveness, revealed that inhibin A/B deficiency during pregnancy, restricts embryo and foetal survival. Conversely, hyper elevated levels of activin A/B, as are frequently observed in patients with advanced cancers, can not only promote gonadal tumour growth but also cancer-cachexia. As such, it is not surprising that inhibin/activin genetic variations or altered circulating levels have been linked to reproductive disorders and cancer. Whilst some of the detrimental health effects associated with disrupted inhibin/activin levels can be attributed to accompanied changes in circulating follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels, there is now abundant evidence that activins, in particular, have fundamental FSH-independent tissue homeostatic roles. Increased understanding of inhibin/activin activity, garnered over several decades, has enabled the development of targeted therapies with applications for both reproductive and extra-gonadal tissues. Inhibin- or activin-targeted technologies have been shown not just to enhance fertility and fecundity, but also to reduce disease severity in models of cancer cachexia. Excitingly, these technologies are likely to benefit human medicine and be highly valuable to animal breeding and veterinary programs.
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