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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1996 Feb;81(2):669-76.

Biological and immunological characterization of inhibin forms in human plasma.

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


A number of immunoassay methods have been developed recently to detect specifically the bioactive alpha-beta A subunit inhibin dimer (inhibin A) in human plasma. However, the specificity of these assays in terms of their ability to detect the range of inhibin forms found in plasma and their relationship to bioactivity have not been investigated. Inhibin was fractionated from human follicular fluid (hFF) and serum/plasma from women stimulated with gonadotropins (IVF serum), and from postmenopausal and male plasma, using a combined immunoaffinity/preparative SDS-PAGE procedure. The molecular weight profile of inhibin was established by inhibin in vitro bioassay, three alpha-beta A subunit specific immunoassays, and three alpha subunit-directed immunoassays that detect the alpha subunit as well as inhibin A and B forms. In hFF inhibin forms of 33, 36, 55 and 66K were detected by in vitro bioassay and by most immunoassays except for 33 k inhibin, which was nondetectable by one alpha-beta A ELISA. The alpha subunit-directed assays also detected activity in the 29-31K region, in some assays in considerably high levels. In IVF serum in vitro bioactivity and immunoactivities were detected between 27 and 100K with the alpha-beta A assays failing to detect all bioactive forms. Alpha subunit-directed assays gave similar immunoactive profiles. Neither in vitro bioassay nor alpha-beta A assays detected activity in post-menopausal plasma or male plasma, while alpha subunit-directed assays showed peaks predominantly at 36 k, although at low levels. It is concluded that dimeric inhibin A specific assays detected bioactive inhibin forms in hFF and to a lesser extent in IVF serum. Alpha subunit-directed assays correlated poorly with in vitro bioassay in hFF because of the high alpha subunit levels in this sample. The higher correlation between these assays in IVF serum suggested that there was little free alpha subunit. The 36K form in male plasma may be free alpha subunit or inhibin B.

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