Follistatin, an activin-binding protein, plays a key role in the modulation of activin-dependent functions. In the anterior pituitary, activin stimulates the synthesis and secretion of FSH. In the current study, we assessed the roles of locally produced activin and follistatin in the control of FSH gene expression and secretion. The anterior pituitary gland follistatin content was measured at frequent intervals during the rat estrous cycle. Follistatin protein levels were high before the primary gonadotropin surges, decreased by 50% on proestrous evening, and rebounded to a peak at midnight on proestrus before returning to presurge levels on estrus morning. Changes in pituitary follistatin protein content were preceded by parallel changes in pituitary follistatin messenger RNA (mRNA). The trough in follistatin protein content on proestrus coincided with a peak in circulating levels of free activin A (not bound to follistatin) and a sharp rise in FSHβ mRNA levels, suggesting that decreased pituitary follistatin leads to increased available activin. To quantitate the contribution of pituitary free activin to pituitary expression of FSHβ mRNA and the primary and secondary serum FSH surges, rats were infused through carotid catheters with saline or recombinant human follistatin (288-amino acid isoform; rhFS-288) at different times during the estrous cycle. Infusion of rhFS-288 on diestrus did not affect FSH production. In contrast, infusion of rhFS-288 during the secondary FSH surge decreased the peaks in FSHβ mRNA and serum FSH by 63% and 47%, respectively, relative to those in saline-infused control animals. Infusion of rhFS-288 during the primary FSH surge decreased serum FSH to a lesser degree (24%). These data indicate a physiological role for pituitary follistatin in the control of activin-mediated FSH synthesis and secretion during the rat estrous cycle.
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