To clarify the source of inhibins in equine female fetuses, concentrations of immunoreactive (ir-) inhibin, inhibin pro-αC, and inhibin A in both fetal and maternal circulation and in fetal ovaries were measured. In addition, the localization of inhibin α and inhibin/activin βA, and βB subunits and the expression of inhibin αA and inhibin/activin βA subunit mRNA in fetal ovaries were investigated using immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization. Concentrations of circulating ir-inhibin, inhibin pro-αC, and inhibin A were remarkably more elevated in the fetal than in the maternal circulation between Days 100 and 250 of gestation. Fetal ovaries contained large amounts of ir-inhibin, inhibin pro-αC, and inhibin A. In contrast, these inhibin forms were undetectable in both the maternal ovaries and placenta. The inhibin α and inhibin/activin βA and βB subunit proteins were localized to enlarged interstitial cells of the equine fetal ovary. Expression of inhibin α and inhibin/activin βA subunit mRNAs were also observed in the interstitial cells. We conclude that the main source of large amounts of inhibins in fetal circulation is interstitial cells of fetal ovary and is not of maternal origin. Furthermore, these inhibins may play some important physiological roles in the development of gonads in the equine fetus.
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