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Clin Exp Immunol. 1997 Dec;110(3):434-9.

Modulation of Fas-mediated apoptosis of human thyroid epithelial cells by IgG from patients with Graves' disease (GD) and idiopathic myxoedema.

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  • 1First Department of Internal Medicine, Nagasaki University School of Medicine, Japan.


The expression of two autoimmune thyroid diseases. GD and idiopathic myxoedema, is associated with antibodies to the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) receptor. Thyroid stimulating antibodies (TSAb) in GD are TSH agonists and cause hyperthyroidism as well as goitre, whereas thyroid stimulation blocking antibodies (TSBAb) in idiopathic myxoedema are TSH antagonists and cause hypothyroidism and thyroid atrophy. We investigated the effect of antibodies to TSH receptor on Fas-mediated apoptosis of thyroid epithelial cells (thyrocytes). Human IgG was isolated from healthy donors, patients with GD and idiopathic myxoedema. Human thyrocytes were obtained from surgical specimens. Thyrocytes were cultured in the presence or absence of human IgG with or without interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) or IL-1beta for a specified time. After incubation, we examined the level of cAMP in cultured supernatants and both Fas and Bcl-2 expression on thyrocytes. In addition, we examined anti-Fas-mediated apoptosis of thyrocytes. Fas expression on thyrocytes was significantly down-regulated by Graves' IgG and TSH, although idiopathic myxoedema IgG did not affect Fas expression on thyrocytes. Idiopathic myxoedema IgG abrogated the effect of TSH on both cAMP production and inhibition of Fas expression on thyrocytes. Treatment of thyrocytes with IL-1beta or IFN-gamma caused a marked augmentation of Fas expression on thyrocytes. The increase of Fas expression of thyrocytes induced by IL-1beta or IFN-gamma was significantly suppressed in the presence of TSH or Graves' IgG. Anti-Fas-induced apoptosis of thyrocytes was observed in thyrocytes treated with IL-1beta or IFN-gamma, but was markedly inhibited in the presence of TSH or Graves' IgG. Furthermore, idiopathic myxoedema IgG abrogated most of the inhibitory effect of TSH on Fas-mediated apoptosis of thyrocytes treated with IL-1beta or IFN-gamma. Bcl-2 expression of thyrocytes did not change after stimulation with TSH, Graves' IgG, idiopathic myxoedema IgG, IL-1beta or IFN-gamma. These results suggest that TSAb found in Graves' patients may be potentially involved in the development of goitre by inhibition of Fas-mediated apoptosis of thyrocytes. In addition, TSBAb inhibit the action of TSH and increase the sensitivity toward Fas-mediated apoptosis of thyrocytes, inducing thyroid atrophy seen in patients with idiopathic myxoedema.

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