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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998 Aug;83(8):2964-71.

Circulating thyroid hormone concentrations and placental thyroid hormone receptor expression in normal human pregnancy and pregnancy complicated by intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR).

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  • 1Department of Fetal Medicine, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, United Kingdom.


Thyroid hormones are critical to growth and development of the human fetus. Abnormal placental development, a major cause of intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), is associated with a high perinatal mortality and morbidity. Thyroid status has been postulated to play a role in the pathogenesis of such morbidity. In the present study, we have investigated fetal thyroid function and placental expression of thyroid hormone receptor (TR) alpha and beta variants during normal human pregnancy and in pregnancy associated with IUGR. Measurement of free thyroid hormones and TSH concentrations revealed significant rises in free T4 and free T3 between the second and third trimesters of normal pregnancy. Serum concentrations of free T4 and free T3 were lower in fetuses affected by IUGR, although serum TSH levels were not significantly different. Immunocytochemistry demonstrated the presence of TR alpha1, alpha2, and beta1 proteins within the nuclei of trophoblast and stromal placental cells. Immunostaining for these TR variants increased with increasing gestation in normal placenta. Comparison of IUGR placental samples with normal samples revealed greater immunostaining for TR alpha1, alpha2, and beta1 variants in IUGR. Examination of pretranslational expression of TR alpha1, alpha2, beta1, and beta2 variants by semiquantitative RT-PCR revealed increasing expression of TR alpha1, alpha2, and beta2 messenger RNAs with increasing gestation in normal pregnancy, which "mirrored" post-translational expression. However, and in contrast, there were no significant differences in expression of TR messenger RNAs in normal and IUGR placenta. The present findings of reduction in serum free thyroid hormones and increased expression of TR alpha and beta proteins in association with IUGR highlight the potential importance of thyroid status in influencing long-term fetal outcome in this condition.

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