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Endocrinology. 1995 Apr;136(4):1694-700.

Severe but not mild alterations of thyroid function modulate the density of thyroid-stimulating hormone receptors in the rat thyroid gland.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital, Lausanne, Switzerland.


TSH initiates its action by binding to specific membrane receptors' thyroid cells and induces activation of the adenylate cyclase-cAMP cascade. The factors involved in the regulation of TSH receptors are poorly known, except for the TSH dose-dependent regulatory effect. The fact that the thyroid gland of Graves' patients has a normal density of TSH receptors with suppressed TSH and high T4 and T3 levels suggests a modulatory role of thyroid hormones on TSH receptors. To evaluate this hypothesis, the density of TSH receptors and the activity of adenylate cyclase were determined in the thyroid membranes from hyperthyroid and hypothyroid adult male rats; they were rendered hyperthyroid either with bovine TSH, TRH, or T3 for 7 days and hypothyroid by propylthiouracil treatment or by hypophysectomy. NaCl was given to the control group. Plasma T4, T3, and TSH were also quantified. Bovine TSH and TRH treatments induced mild hyperthyroidism with a small goiter and a 50% reduction in the density of TSH receptors due to hyperstimulation of the gland by either exogenous or endogenous high TSH levels. Severe hyperthyroidism caused by T3 treatment resulted in low T4, high T3, and suppressed TSH thyrocyte stimulation; it was associated with a significant increase in the number of TSH receptors (29.6 +/- 2.3 vs. control 17.9 +/- 1.7 mU TSH/mg protein). These last results suggest a putative positive effect of T3 on TSH receptors. To confirm this effect, hypothyroid rats were investigated. Severe primary hypothyroidism due to propylthiouracil treatment was associated with a large goiter, high plasma TSH levels (11.8 +/- 1.2 vs. control 1.5 +/- 0.1 mU TSH/ml), low plasma T4 and T3, and a 70% reduction in TSH receptors, confirming the down-regulatory effect of high TSH on the thyroid cell. However, in hypophysectomized rats, a 45% reduction in the density of TSH receptors was also observed in the absence of TSH. Injections of either TSH or T3 to these hypophysectomized rats restored a normal number of TSH-binding sites, and simultaneous TSH and T3 treatments resulted in a mildly additive effect in the number of TSH receptors, which was slightly greater than that of the controls. No important changes were found in the adenylate cyclase activity in the thyroid membrane preparations from hyperthyroid and hypothyroid rats despite variations in the density of TSH receptors.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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