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Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2006 Jun 7;251(1-2):1-8. Epub 2006 May 16.

Functional neuroanatomy of thyroid hormone feedback in the human hypothalamus and pituitary gland.

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  • 1Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism F5-168, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


A major change in thyroid setpoint regulation occurs in various clinical conditions such as critical illness and psychiatric disorders. As a first step towards identifying determinants of these setpoint changes, we have studied the distribution and expression of thyroid hormone receptor (TR) isoforms, type 2 and type 3 deiodinase (D2 and D3), and the thyroid hormone transporter monocarboxylate transporter 8 (MCT8) in the human hypothalamus and anterior pituitary. Although the post-mortem specimens used for these studies originated from patients who had died from many different pathologies, the anatomical distribution of these proteins was similar in all patients. D2 enzyme activity was detectable in the infundibular nucleus/median eminence (IFN/ME) region coinciding with local D2 immunoreactivity in glial cells. Additional D2 immunostaining was present in tanycytes lining the third ventricle. Thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) containing neurons in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) expressed MCT8, TRs as well as D3. These findings suggest that the prohormone thyroxine (T4) is taken up in hypothalamic glial cells that convert T4 into the biologically active triiodothyronine (T3) via the enzyme D2, and that T3 is subsequently transported to TRH producing neurons in the PVN. In these neurons, T3 may either bind to TRs or be metabolized into inactive iodothyronines by D3. By inference, local changes in thyroid hormone metabolism resulting from altered hypothalamic deiodinase or MCT8 expression may underlie the decrease in TRH mRNA reported earlier in the PVN of patients with critical illness and depression. In the anterior pituitary, D2 and MCT8 immunoreactivity occurred exclusively in folliculostellate (FS) cells. Both TR and D3 immunoreactivity was observed in gonadotropes and to a lesser extent in thyrotropes and other hormone producing cell types. Based upon these neuroanatomical findings, we propose a novel model for central thyroid hormone feedback in humans, with a pivotal role for hypothalamic glial cells and pituitary FS cells in processing and activation of T4. Production and action of T3 appear to occur in separate cell types of the human hypothalamus and anterior pituitary.

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