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Endocr Relat Cancer. 2004 Mar;11(1):35-49.

Inhibin/activin and ovarian cancer.

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  • 1Prince Henry's Institute of Medical Research, PO 5152, Clayton, Victoria 3168, Australia.


Inhibin and activin are members of the transforming growth factor beta (TGFbeta) family of cytokines produced by the gonads, with a recognised role in regulating pituitary FSH secretion. Inhibin consists of two homologous subunits, alpha and either betaA or betaB (inhibin A and B). Activins are hetero- or homodimers of the beta-subunits. Inhibin and free alpha subunit are known products of two ovarian tumours (granulosa cell tumours and mucinous carcinomas). This observation has provided the basis for the development of a serum diagnostic test to monitor the occurrence and treatment of these cancers. Transgenic mice with an inhibin alpha subunit gene deletion develop stromal/granulosa cell tumours suggesting that the alpha subunit is a tumour suppressor gene. The role of inhibin and activin is reviewed in ovarian cancer both as a measure of proven clinical utility in diagnosis and management and also as a factor in the pathogenesis of these tumours. In order to place these findings into perspective the biology of inhibin/activin and of other members of the TGFbeta superfamily is also discussed.

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