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Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2006 Mar;231(3):229-36.

The immune system as a regulator of thyroid hormone activity.

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Department of Diagnostic Sciences, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Room 3.094F, Dental Branch, 6516 MD Anderson Boulevard, 77030, USA.


It has been known for decades that the neuroendocrine system can both directly and indirectly influence the developmental and functional activity of the immune system. In contrast, far less is known about the extent to which the immune system collaborates in the regulation of endocrine activity. This is particularly true for immune-endocrine interactions of the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid axis. Although thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) can be produced by many types of extra-pituitary cells--including T cells, B cells, splenic dendritic cells, bone marrow hematopoietic cells, intestinal epithelial cells, and lymphocytes--the functional significance of those TSH pathways remains elusive and historically has been largely ignored from a research perspective. There is now, however, evidence linking cells of the immune system to the regulation of thyroid hormone activity in normal physiological conditions as well as during times of immunological stress. Although the mechanisms behind this are poorly understood, they appear to reflect a process of local intrathyroidal synthesis of TSH mediated by a population of bone marrow cells that traffic to the thyroid. This hitherto undescribed cell population has the potential to microregulate thyroid hormone secretion leading to critical alterations in metabolic activity independent of pituitary TSH output, and it has expansive implications for understanding mechanisms by which the immune system may act to modulate neuroendocrine function during times of host stress. In this article, the basic underpinnings of the hematopoietic-thyroid connection are described, and a model is presented in which the immune system participates in the regulation of thyroid hormone activity during acute infection.

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