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J Neuroendocrinol. 2009 Feb;21(2):98-107. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2008.01813.x.

Thyroid hormone action: nongenomic modulation of neuronal excitability in the hippocampus.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy.


Years of effort have failed to establish a generally-accepted mechanism of thyroid hormone (TH) action in the mature brain. Recently, both morphological and pharmacological evidence have supported a direct neuroactive role for the hormone and its triiodinated metabolites. However, no direct physiological validation has been available. We now describe electrophysiological studies in vivo in which we observed that local thyroxine (T4) administration promptly inhibited field excitatory postsynaptic potentials recorded in the dentate gyrus (DG) with stimulation of the medial perforant pathway, a result that was found to be especially pronounced in hypothyroid rats. In separate in vitro experiments, we observed more subtle but statistically significant responses of hippocampal slices to treatment with the hormone. The results demonstrate that baseline firing rates of CA1 pyramidal cells were modestly reduced by pulse-perfusion with T4. By contrast, administration of triiodothyronine (T3) was often noted to have modest enhancing effects on CA1 cell firing rates in hippocampal slices from euthyroid animals. Moreover, and more reliably, robust firing rate increases induced by norepinephrine were amplified when preceded by treatment with T3, whereas they were diminished by pretreatment with T4. These studies provide the first direct evidence for functional, nongenomic actions of TH leading to rapid changes in neuronal excitability in adult rat DG studied in vivo and highlight the opposing effects of T4 and T3 on norepinephrine-induced responses of CA1 cells studied in vitro.

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