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Environ Health. 2012 Jun 28;11 Suppl 1:S10. doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-11-S1-S10.

Thyroid hormone metabolism and environmental chemical exposure.

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Department of Paediatrics and Neonatology, Emma Children's Hospital Academic Medical Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.



Polychlorinated dioxins and -furans (PCDD/Fs) and polychlorinated-biphenyls (PCBs) are environmental toxicants that have been proven to influence thyroid metabolism both in animal studies and in human beings. In recent years polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) also have been found to have a negative influence on thyroid hormone metabolism. The lower brominated flame retardants are now banned in the EU, however higher brominated decabromo-diphenyl ether (DBDE) and the brominated flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) are not yet banned. They too can negatively influence thyroid hormone metabolism. An additional brominated flame retardant that is still in use is tetrabromobisphenol-A (TBBPA), which has also been shown to influence thyroid hormone metabolism.Influences of brominated flame retardants, PCDD/F's and dioxin like-PCBs (dl-PCB's) on thyroid hormone metabolism in adolescence in the Netherlands will be presented in this study and determined if there are reasons for concern to human health for these toxins. In the period 1987-1991, a cohort of mother-baby pairs was formed in order to detect abnormalities in relation to dioxin levels in the perinatal period. The study demonstrated that PCDD/Fs were found around the time of birth, suggesting a modulation of the setpoint of thyroid hormone metabolism with a higher 3,3', 5,5'tetrathyroxine (T4) levels and an increased thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). While the same serum thyroid hormone tests (- TSH and T4) were again normal by 2 years of age and were still normal at 8-12 years, adolescence is a period with extra stress on thyroid hormone metabolism. Therefore we measured serum levels of TSH, T4, 3,3',5- triiodothyronine (T3), free T4 (FT4), antibodies and thyroxine-binding globulin (TBG) in our adolescent cohort.


Vena puncture was performed to obtain samples for the measurement of thyroid hormone metabolism related parameters and the current serum dioxin (PCDD/Fs), PCB and PBDE levels.


The current levels of T3 were positively correlated to BDE-99. A positive trend with FT4 and BDE-99 was also seen, while a positive correlation with T3 and dl-PCB was also seen. No correlation with TBG was seen for any of the contaminants. Neither the prenatal nor the current PCDD/F levels showed a relationship with the thyroid parameters in this relatively small group.


Once again the thyroid hormone metabolism (an increase in T3) seems to have been influenced by current background levels of common environmental contaminants: dl-PCBs and BDE-99. T3 is a product of target organs and abnormalities might indicate effects on hormone transporters and could cause pathology. While the influence on T3 levels may have been compensated, because the adolescents functioned normal at the time of the study period, it is questionable if this compensation is enough for all organs depending on thyroid hormones.

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