OBJECTIVE: Inhibin and activin are proteins produced by ovarian granulosa cells and testicular Sertoli cells and are members of the transforming growth factor-beta superfamily. Since increased circulating levels of immunoreactive inhibin were detected in women with malignant ovarian tumors, they were proposed as tumor markers for ovarian carcinoma. Immunohistochemical studies later confirmed the presence of inhibin and activin subunits in granulosa cell tumors and epithelial ovarian cancer, as well as in Sertoli and Leydig cell testicular cancer. However, there is discrepant information on the detection of inhibin and activin in malignant germ cell tumors (MGCT). The aim of the present study was to evaluate the immunohistochemical expression of the inhibin/activin alpha, betaA and betaB subunits in ovarian and testicular MGCT specimens using polyclonal antisera. METHODS: The ovarian tissue samples were composed of 19 MGCT, including dysgerminoma (n=18) and yolk sac tumor (n=1). The testis specimens included classic seminomas (n=20), embryonal carcinomas (n=7), choriocarcinomas (n=2), and yolk sac tumor (n=1). RESULTS: Ovarian and testicular malignant germ cell tumors expressed positive staining for inhibin/activin alpha, betaA and betaB subunits, with some variations between and within individual tumors: while ovarian dysgerminomas were diffusely positive for alpha, betaA and betaB, testicular tumors expressed alpha and betaB subunits, whereas betaA staining was weak. CONCLUSIONS: The present results show positive staining for inhibin/activin subunits in ovarian and testicular MGCT, suggesting a possible role in tumorigenesis with the resultant clinical implication.