The aims of this study were to develop a sensitive and specific assay for bovine inhibin A using europium and to investigate the endocrine role of inhibin A in various reproductive conditions by characterizing the relationship between profiles of inhibin A, FSH, and estradiol and follicle growth during the postpartum period, during the intact estrous cycle, and in cows with follicular cysts. The time-resolved immunofluorometric assay (Tr-IFMA) for bovine inhibin A, using purified polyclonal antibodies to α and βA subunits, was specific for bovine inhibin A and did not cross-react with bovine activin A, activin AB, activin B, pro-αC or human recombinant inhibin B. The detection limit of the IFMA was 3.3 pg/ml expressed in terms of bovine 32-kDa inhibin A. Dose-response curves of plasma samples obtained from intact and FSH-stimulated cows and cystic cows were parallel to the standard without any preassay processing of samples. Plasma inhibin A levels increased (P < 0.01) concomitant with emergence of nonovulatory or ovulatory follicular waves during the postpartum period. In cystic cows, plasma inhibin A was sustained at high levels for a longer period, associated with growth of persistent dominant follicles. The highest levels of inhibin A were noted during the growth phase of normal and persistent dominant follicles; however, inhibin A levels declined (P < 0.01) as these dominant follicles ceased to grow or ovulated. An inverse relationship between patterns of plasma inhibin A and FSH existed during each follicular wave in the three physiologic conditions. Increases in plasma inhibin A levels were associated with increases in plasma estradiol levels during most follicular waves; however, there was no increase in plasma estradiol level and no relationship between patterns of estradiol and FSH during follicular waves observed during the early postpartum period or midluteal phase of the estrous cycle. In conclusion, the Tr-IFMA does not require pretreatment of samples and can be used for precise measurement of bovine inhibin A without interference with free inhibin α subunits. Inhibin A, produced primarily during growth of the dominant follicle, functions as a negative feedback regulator for FSH secretion throughout the postpartum period and the estrous cycle, whereas estradiol appears to have a minor role in regulation of FSH compared with inhibin A, especially during the early postpartum period and midluteal phase of the estrous cycle. The results also indicate that a persistent dominant follicle sustains inhibin A production for a longer period than the dominant follicle emerging in the estrous cycle and establishes long-term dominance by suppressing emergence of a new follicular wave.
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