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T Vanttinen, J Liu, T Kuulasmaa, P Kivinen, and R Voutilainen

Activins and inhibins are structurally related glycoprotein hormones modulating pituitary FSH secretion and gonadal steroidogenesis. Activins and inhibins are also produced in the adrenal cortex where their physiological role is poorly known. Hormonally active human adrenocortical tumors express and secrete inhibins, while in mice adrenal inhibins may function as tumor suppressors. To clarify the significance of adrenal activins and inhibins we investigated the localization of activin/inhibin signaling components in the adrenal gland, and the effects of activins and inhibins on adrenocortical steroidogenesis and apoptosis.Activin receptor type II/IIB and IB, activin signal transduction proteins Smad2/3, and inhibin receptor betaglycan were expressed throughout the adrenal cortex, whereas Smad4 expression was seen mainly in the zona reticularis and the innermost zona fasciculata as evaluated by immunohistochemistry. Treatment of cultured adrenocortical carcinoma NCI-H295R cells with activin A inhibited steroidogenic acute regulatory protein and 17alpha-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase mRNA accumulation as evaluated by the Northern blot technique, and decreased cortisol, androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate secretion as determined by specific enzyme immunoassays. Activin A increased apoptosis as measured by a terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase in situ apoptosis detection method. Inhibins had no effect on steroidogenesis or apoptosis.In summary, activin/inhibin signaling components are coexpressed in the zona reticularis and the innermost zona fasciculata indicating full signaling potential for adrenal activins and inhibins in these layers. Activin inhibits steroidogenic enzyme gene expression and steroid secretion, and increases apoptosis in human adrenocortical cells. Thus, the activin-inhibin system may have a significant role in the regulation of glucocorticoid and androgen production and apoptotic cell death in the human adrenal cortex.

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T Vanttinen, J Liu, C Hyden-Granskog, and R Voutilainen

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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T Vanttinen, J Liu, C Hyden-Granskog, M Parviainen, I Penttila, and R Voutilainen

Inhibins are gonadal glycoproteins with endocrine effects on pituitary FSH secretion and para/autocrine effects on ovarian and testicular function. The purpose of this study was to investigate the endocrine and para/autocrine regulation of inhibin A and inhibin B secretion in human ovarian granulosa-luteal cells. The cells were obtained from women undergoing in vitro fertilization, and the primary cultures were treated with FSH, LH, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), activin A, 8-bromo cyclic AMP (8-BrcAMP), staurosporine (a protein kinase C inhibitor) and an antagonist of IGF action (type-1 IGF receptor antibody alpha IR3). The secretion of inhibins was measured by ELISA assays capable of reliably distinguishing between inhibin A and B. FSH, LH, hCG and 8-BrcAMP increased inhibin A secretion on average up to 180% (P<0.01), 192% (P<0.05), 210% (P<0.01) and 243% (P<0.01) respectively of the control level, while their stimulatory effect on inhibin B secretion was less pronounced (up to 167%, P<0.01; 139%, P<0.05; 127%, P>0.05; 133%, P>0.05 of the controls respectively). alpha IR3 decreased inhibin A and B secretion down to 70% (P<0.01) and 50% (P<0.01) respectively of the control. Staurosporine decreased inhibin B secretion down to 49% (P<0.01) of the control; its effect on inhibin A secretion was not significant. Activin A increased inhibin B secretion up to fourfold of the control (P<0.05) while its effect on inhibin A secretion was insignificant. We conclude that gonadotropins via the protein kinase A signal transduction pathway are the main positive regulators of inhibin A and B secretion in human granulosa-luteal cells. The protein kinase C signal transduction pathway seems to be important especially for inhibin B secretion. Locally produced IGFs are probably important inducers of the production of both forms of inhibin in human ovaries while activins seem to upregulate inhibin B secretion.