Activin is an important molecule that regulates hormonogenesis, cellular homeostasis (divide or die pathways), and differentiation programs (developmentally and in adult cells). The cellular mechanisms that integrate an activin signal into a physiological response include a binary receptor complex and tandem serine threonine kinases, intracellular signal mediators, and nuclear transcription factors. Activin antagonists (inhibins) and bioneutralizing binding proteins (follistatins) act as gating molecules to ensure accurate delivery of activin signals to cellular machinery. Correct execution of an activin cue intracellularly permits actions as fundamental as embryonic mesoderm development, neuronal survival, hematopoietic function, and reproductive cyclicity. Absent or incorrect activin signaling results in phenotypes as catastrophic as embryonic lethality, tumor formation, and infertility. The general ways in which a cell senses and responds to an activin signal will be reviewed in the first part of this paper. The role of this ligand in reproductive function will also be examined as a specific example of activin activity.
ASJC Scopus subject areas