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Thyroid. 2005 Aug;15(8):943-58.

Alternate pathways of thyroid hormone metabolism.

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Nuclear Medicine and Medical Services, University of California, Irvine and Department of Veterans' Affairs Healthcare System, Long Beach, California 90822, USA.


The major thyroid hormone (TH) secreted by the thyroid gland is thyroxine (T(4)). Triiodothyronine (T(3)), formed chiefly by deiodination of T(4), is the active hormone at the nuclear receptor, and it is generally accepted that deiodination is the major pathway regulating T(3) bioavailability in mammalian tissues. The alternate pathways, sulfation and glucuronidation of the phenolic hydroxyl group of iodothyronines, the oxidative deamination and decarboxylation of the alanine side chain to form iodothyroacetic acids, and ether link cleavage provide additional mechanisms for regulating the supply of active hormone. Sulfation may play a general role in regulation of iodothyronine metabolism, since sulfation of T(4) and T(3) markedly accelerates deiodination to the inactive metabolites, reverse triiodothyronine (rT(3)) and T(2). Sulfoconjugation is prominent during intrauterine development, particularly in the precocial species in the last trimester including humans and sheep, where it may serve both to regulate the supply of T(3), via sulfation followed by deiodination, and to facilitate maternal-fetal exchange of sulfated iodothyronines (e.g., 3,3'-diiodothyronine sulfate [T(2)S]). The resulting low serum T(3) may be important for normal fetal development in the late gestation. The possibility that T(2)S or its derivative, transferred from the fetus and appearing in maternal serum or urine, can serve as a marker of fetal thyroid function is being studied. Glucuronidation of TH often precedes biliary-fecal excretion of hormone. In rats, stimulation of glucuronidation by various drugs and toxins may lead to lower T(4) and T(3) levels, provocation of thyrotropin (TSH) secretion, and goiter. In man, drug induced stimulation of glucuronidation is limited to T(4), and does not usually compromise normal thyroid function. However, in hypothyroid subjects, higher doses of TH may be required to maintain euthyroidism when these drugs are given. In addition, glucuronidates and sulfated iodothyronines can be hydrolyzed to their precursors in gastrointestinal tract and various tissues. Thus, these conjugates can serve as a reservoir for biologically active iodothyronines (e.g., T(4), T(3), or T(2)). The acetic acid derivatives of T(4), tetrac and triac, are minor products in normal thyroid physiology. However, triac has a different pattern of receptor affinity than T(3), binding preferentially to the beta receptor. This makes it useful in the treatment of the syndrome of resistance to thyroid hormone action, where the typical mutation affects only the beta receptor. Thus, adequate binding to certain mutated beta receptors can be achieved without excessive stimulation of alpha receptors, which predominate in the heart. Ether link cleavage of TH is also a minor pathway in normal subjects. However, this pathway may become important during infections, when augmented TH breakdown by ether-link cleavage (ELC) may assist in bactericidal activity. There is a recent claim that decarboxylated derivates of thyronines, that is, monoiodothyronamine (T(1)am) and thyronamine (T(0)am), may be biologically important and have actions different from those of TH. Further information on these interesting derivatives is awaited.

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