Plasma and ovarian levels of the dimeric forms of inhibin and plasma estradiol-17β were investigated and compared with changes in plasma gonadotropins from Postnatal Day (PND) 5 to PND 30 in the female rat. The inhibin subunit proteins were localized in follicular granulosa cells of the ovary. Plasma immunoreactive inhibin levels were low until PND 15 and increased thereafter. Plasma levels of inhibin B (α and βB subunits) remained very low until PND 15 and then increased by approximately 24-fold. In contrast, plasma levels of inhibin A (α and βA subunits) were relatively low and steady until PND 20, then increased by approximately 3-fold at PND 25. Changes in ovarian inhibin A and B levels closely resembled those in plasma levels. Plasma FSH levels were low at PND 10 but started to peak from PND 15 and remained high until PND 20, followed by a remarkable reduction at PNDs 25 and 30. This dramatic fall in FSH coincided with the rise of inhibin A. A significant inverse correlation was observed between plasma FSH and plasma inhibin A (r = −0.67, P < 0.0002), ovarian inhibin A (r = −0.48, P < 0.01), plasma inhibin B (r = −0.48, P < 0.05), and ovarian inhibin B (r = −0.54, P < 0.01). Plasma estradiol-17β levels were elevated from PND 5 through PND 15 , then fell sharply through PND 30. Plasma estradiol-17β was significantly and positively (r = 0.75, P < 0.0002) correlated with plasma FSH. Plasma LH rose to higher levels at PND 15 and tended to be lower thereafter. The inhibin α, βA, and βB subunits were localized to primary, secondary, and antral and large antral follicles, but the types of these immunopositive follicles varied with age. It appeared that, at PND 25 and afterward, all three subunits were mainly confined to large antral follicles in the ovary. We conclude that estradiol-17β likely is the major candidate in stimulation of FSH secretion in the infantile female rat. We also conclude that inhibin regulation of pituitary FSH secretion through its negative feedback in the infantile female rat begins to operate after PND 20. We suggest that this negative feedback is achieved by increases in plasma levels of the two dimeric forms, and that inhibin A appears to be the major physiological regulator of FSH secretion at the initiation of this mechanism. We also conclude that large antral follicles in the ovary are the primary source of these bioactive inhibins that are secreted in large amounts into the circulation after PND 20.
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