Transforming growth factor-beta (TGFbeta) homologues form a diverse superfamily that arose early in animal evolution and control cellular function through membrane-spanning, conserved serine-threonine kinases (RII and RI receptors). Activin and inhibin are related dimers within the TGFbeta superfamily that share a common beta-subunit. The evolution of the inhibin alpha-subunit created the only antagonist within the TGFbeta superfamily and the only member known to act as an endocrine hormone. This hormone introduced a new level of complexity and control to vertebrate reproductive function. The novel functions of the inhibin alpha-subunit appear to reflect specific insertion-deletion changes within the inhibin beta-subunit that occurred during evolution. Using phylogenomic analysis, we correlated specific insertions with the acquisition of distinct functions that underlie the phenotypic complexity of vertebrate reproductive processes. This phylogenomic approach presents a new way of understanding the structure-function relationships between inhibin, activin, and the larger TGFbeta superfamily.
Jie Zhu, Edward L. Braun, Satomi Kohno, Monica Antenos, Eugene Y. Xu, Robert W. Cook, S. Jack Lin, Brandon C. Moore, Louis J. Guillette, Jr., Theodore S. Jardetzky, Teresa K. Woodruff. PLoS One, Volume 5, Issue 3, March 2010.