We have examined the expression of the rat inhibin genes in the maternal ovary during pregnancy. RNA blot analysis indicates that the inhibin-a chain mRNA is expressed in the ovary throughout gestation at levels comparable to those observed in cycling rats. In situ hybridization shows that the inhibin-α and -βAmRNAs are produced in the granulosa cells of developing antral follicles; little or no hybridization to functional corpora lutea is observed. Early in pregnancy, a large number of follicles hybridize to both α- and βA-inhibin cDNA probes. Many of these follicles undergo atresia during the first half of pregnancy, and the number of inhibin-expressing follicles reaches a nadir on day 15. This is followed by an increase in inhibin-producing follicles, which peaks just before parturition. The increase in inhibin-expressing follicles observed in late pregnancy corresponds to a small rise in serum inhibin levels, as measured using an α chain-specific RIA. After the first postpartum ovulation, few hybridizing follicles are observed. Ovariectomy in either early (day 6) or mid (day 15) pregnancy results in a significant fall in serum inhibin levels and a robust increase in serum FSH levels 9 h after surgery. These results suggest that inhibin is produced by the maternal ovary during pregnancy, that its synthesis is modulated during late gestation, and that inhibin may play a role in regulating FSH secretion during pregnancy.
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