Activins, members of the TGF-beta superfamily, are disulfide-linked dimeric proteins originally purified from gonadal fluids as proteins that stimulated pituitary follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) release. Identified in 1986, activin enhances FSH biosynthesis and secretion, and participates in the regulation of the menstrual cycle. Many other functions have been found to be exerted by activin, including roles in cell proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis, metabolism, homeostasis, immune response, wound repair, and endocrine function.
Activin is a dimer composed of two identical or very similar beta subunits. However, in contrast to activin, the second component of the inhibin dimer is a more distantly-related alpha subunit. The activin protein complexes are both dimeric in structure, and, in each complex, the two monomers are linked to one another by a single disulfide bond. The following is a list of the most common activin complexes and their subunit composition:
Table 1. Activin complexes and their subunit composition
|Activin||stimulates FSH secretion||Activin A||βA||βA|
In mammals, four beta subunits have been described, called activin βA, activin βB, activin βC and activin βE. A fifth subunit, activin βD, has been described in Xenopus laevis. Two activin βA subunits give rise to activin A, one βA, and one βB subunit gives rise to activin AB, and so on. Various, but not all theoretically possible, heterodimers have been described. The subunits are linked by a single covalent disulfide bond. The βC subunit is able to form activin heterodimers with βA or βB subunits.
Members of activins family
Table 2. Activins family related products
|Activins Receptor||Activin Receptor Type IA||Activin RIIB||ACVR1|
Activin is produced in the gonads, pituitary gland, placenta, and other organs:
Mechanism of action
As with other members of the superfamily, activins interact with two types of cell surface transmembrane receptors (Types I and II) which have intrinsic serine/threonine kinase activities in their cytoplasmic domains:
Activin binds to the Type II receptor and initiates a cascade reaction that leads to the recruitment, phosphorylation, and activation of Type I activin receptor. This then interacts with and then phosphorylates SMAD2 and SMAD3, two of the cytoplasmic SMAD proteins.
Smad3 then translocates to the nucleus and interacts with SMAD4 through multimerization, resulting in their modulation as transcription factor complexes responsible for the expression of a large variety of genes.
Role in disease
Activin A is more plentiful in the obese adipose tissue, compared to lean persons. Activin A promotes the proliferation of adipocyte progenitor cells, while inhibiting their differentiation into adipocytes. Activin A also increases inflammatory cytokines in macrophages.
A mutation in the gene for the activin receptor ACVR1 results in fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, a fatal disease that causes muscle and soft tissue to gradually be replaced by bone tissue. This condition is characterized by the formation of an extra skeleton that produces immobilization and eventually dies by suffocation. The mutation in ACVR1 causes activin A, which normally acts as an antagonist of the receptor and blocks osteogenesis (bone growth), to behave as an agonist of the receptor and to induce hyperactive bone growth. On 2 September 2015, Regeneron announced that they have developed an antibody for activin A that effectively cures the disease in an animal model of the condition.
Mutations in the ACVR1 gene have also been linked to cancer, especially diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG).
In January 2017, the Journal of Translational Medicine reported that elevated Activin B levels with normal Activin A levels provided a biomarker for myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome.
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