Quantitative changes in ovarian inhibin/activin subunit and follistatin mRNAs during the rat estrous cycle were examined by ribonuclease protection assay using digoxygenin-labeled RNA probes. Levels of ovarian inhibin α subunit mRNA remained low throughout estrus, metestrus, and diestrus; abruptly increased on the morning of proestrus; then rapidly decreased when the primary gonadotropin surge occurred. A similar changing pattern was observed in inhibin/activin βA subunit mRNA. On the other hand, inhibin/activin βB subunit mRNA showed a different changing pattern. Levels of βB subunit mRNA remained constant during metestrus and diestrus, abruptly decreased on the afternoon of proestrus, then quickly recovered from the nadir by 1100 h on estrus. Throughout the rat estrous cycle, especially during the periovulatory period, α subunit mRNA levels were considerably higher than βA and βB subunit mRNA levels. In addition, changes in plasma concentrations of inhibin A and inhibin B were very similar to that in ovarian βA and βB subunit mRNA levels, respectively, with several-hour delays. These results suggest that levels of β subunit mRNAs restrict secretion of dimeric inhibins. Levels of follistatin mRNA remained low from the midnight of metestrus to the midnight of diestrus, then increased until initiation of the primary gonadotropin surge. Thereafter, follistatin mRNA decreased, reached the nadir at 0200 h on estrus, then increased abruptly at 1100 h on estrus. Afterward, follistatin mRNA levels remained high until the morning of metestrus. The changing pattern of ovarian follistatin mRNA was similar to, and preceded, the changes in plasma concentrations of progesterone, suggesting that ovarian follistatin may modulate progesterone secretion during the rat estrous cycle.
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