OBJECTIVE: The feto-placental unit is the major source of circulating concentrations of inhibin A and activin A in human pregnancy. The aim of this study was to measure the amniotic fluid concentrations of inhibin A, inhibin B, activin A and follistatin in pregnancies bearing male and female fetuses. DESIGN AND METHOD: Amniotic fluid samples collected by amniocentesis were stored at -20 degrees C. Dimeric inhibins, 'total' activin A and 'total' follistatin were measured using specific two-site enzyme immunoassays. Samples were assayed blindly and the information on fetal sex was obtained from the cytogenetics laboratory. RESULTS: Data show that amniotic fluid concentrations of inhibin A, inhibin B and activin A gradually increase with gestation whilst concentrations of follistatin are similar between weeks 15 and 20 of pregnancy. Mean amniotic fluid levels of inhibin A and inhibin B at 16 and 17 weeks gestation and mean activin A levels at 15 and 16 weeks gestation are considerably lower in pregnancies with male (n=24) compared with female (n=28) fetuses. Levels of follistatin are not different in the male and female fetal pregnancies at any studied gestation. CONCLUSIONS: The results indicate that amniotic fluid contains high concentrations of inhibins (A and B), activin A and follistatin in early pregnancy suggesting that these hormones are produced by the fetal membranes and may be involved in the development of the fetus.
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