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Molecular and cellular endocrinology

Inhibins and activins in human fetal abnormalities.


PMID 15451574

Abstract

To date, the only routine clinical application of inhibin or activin measurement in testing for fetal abnormalities has been the use of inhibin A in prenatal screening for trisomy 21 (Down syndrome). Second trimester maternal serum levels of inhibin A are, on average, two-fold higher in Down syndrome than in unaffected pregnancies. Although the biology of altered second trimester maternal serum analyte levels in Down syndrome pregnancy cannot yet be explained, it seems that fetal products tend to be decreased, while placental products tend to be increased. This pattern holds true for inhibin A because maternal serum levels appear to be derived from placental rather than fetal sources. Therefore, the measurement of inhibins and activins in maternal fluids, although clinically useful and relatively easy to obtain, may not be helpful in studying their role in human fetal development. Studies in transgenic mice indicate a role for activin, follistatin, and activin receptor type IIA in development of the palate and craniofacial region. Cleft palate is a common birth defect and is associated with serious feeding and respiratory complications in newborns. We have begun to investigate the potential role of activin in human craniofacial development by examining the spatial and temporal expression of inhibin/activin subunits, follistatin and the activin receptors in the fetal palate. Palate tissues were collected at autopsy from fetuses ranging in gestational age from 9 to 42 weeks, and 8 week embryonic tissues were also examined. Tissues were either stored in paraffin for immunocytochemistry or were frozen for RT-PCR examination of the expression of inhibin/activin proteins or mRNAs, respectively. To date, betaA subunit, follistatin, and activin receptor, but not alpha and betaB subunit, mRNAs are present in palate tissues and inhibin/activin betaA immunoreactivity has been consistently observed in developing bone. Expression of the activin A subunit and its receptors in the human fetal palate are consistent with a developmental role. Studies are ongoing to determine whether altered activin biosynthesis is associated with cleft palate. Future studies of fetal tissues may help to elucidate other roles for the TGF-beta family in human development.

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