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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2000 Nov;85(11):3975-87.

Is neuropsychological development related to maternal hypothyroidism or to maternal hypothyroxinemia?

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Departamento de Endocrinología, Instituto de Investigaciones Biomédicas Alberto Sols, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas and Facultad de Medicina, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain.


Several recent publications have drawn attention to the role of the thyroid hormone status of the mother on the future neuropsychological development of the child. The screening of pregnant women for clinical or subclinical hypothyroidism based on second trimester elevated maternal TSH values has been proposed. Here, we have summarized present epidemiological and experimental evidence strongly suggesting that conditions resulting in first trimester hypothyroxinemia (a low for gestational age circulating maternal free T4, whether or not TSH is increased) pose an increased risk for poor neuropsychological development of the fetus. This would be a consequence of decreased availability of maternal T4 to the developing brain, its only source of thyroid hormone during the first trimester; T4 is the required substrate for the ontogenically regulated generation of T3 in the amounts needed for optimal development in different brain structures, both temporally and spatially. Normal maternal T3 concentrations do not seem to prevent the potential damage of a low supply of T4, although they might prevent an increase in circulating TSH and detection of the hypothyroxinemia if only TSH is measured. Hypothyroxinemia seems to be much more frequent in pregnant women than either clinical or subclinical hypothyroidism and autoimmune thyroid disease, especially in regions where the iodine intake of the pregnant woman is inadequate to meet her increased needs for T4. It is proposed that the screening of pregnant women for thyroid disorders should include the determination of free T4 as soon as possible during the first trimester as a major test, because hypothyroxinemia has been related to poor developmental outcome, irrespective of the presence of high titers of thyroid autoantibodies or elevated serum TSH. The frequency with which this may occur is probably 150 times or more that of congenital hypothyroidism, for which successful screening programs have been instituted in many countries.

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