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Congenital hypothyroidism, as studied in rats. Crucial role of maternal thyroxine but not of 3,5,3'-triiodothyronine in the protection of the fetal brain

AuthorsCalvo, Rosa M. CSIC; Obregón, María Jesús; Ruiz de Oña, Carmen; Escobar del Rey, Francisco; Morreale de Escobar, Gabriella CSIC
Issue DateSep-1990
PublisherAmerican Society for Clinical Investigation
CitationJournal of Clinical Investigation 86(3): 889-899 (1990)
AbstractTo study the protective effects of maternal thyroxine (T4) and 3,5,3'-triiodothyronine (T3) in congenital hypothyroidism, we gave pregnant rats methimazole (MMI), an antithyroid drug that crosses the placenta, and infused them with three different doses of T4 or T3. The concentrations of both T4 and T3 were determined in maternal and fetal plasma and tissues (obtained near term) by specific RIAs. Several thyroid hormone-dependent biological end-points were also measured. MMI treatment resulted in marked fetal T4 and T3 deficiency. Infusion of T4 into the mothers increased both these pools in a dose-dependent fashion. There was a preferential increase of T3 in the fetal brain. Thus, with a T4 dose maintaining maternal euthyroidism, fetal brain T3 reached normal values, although fetal plasma T4 was 40% of normal and plasma TSH was high. The infusion of T3 pool into the mothers increased the total fetal extrathyroidal T3 pool in a dose-dependent fashion. The fetal T4 pools were not increased, however, and this deprived the fetal brain (and possibly the pituitary) of local generation of T3 from T4. As a consequence, fetal brain T3 deficiency was not mitigated even when dams were infused with a toxic dose of T3. The results show that (a) there is a preferential protection of the brain of the hypothyroid fetus from T3 deficiency; (b) maternal T4, but not T3, plays a crucial role in this protection, and (c) any condition which lowers maternal T4 (including treatment with T3) is potentially harmful for the brain of a hypothyroid fetus. Recent confirmation of transplacental passage of T4 in women at term suggests that present results are relevant for human fetuses with impairment of thyroid function. Finding signs of hypothyroidism at birth does not necessarily mean that the brain was unprotected in utero, provided maternal T4 is normal. It is crucial to realize that maintainance of maternal "euthyroidism" is not sufficient, as despite hypothyroxinemia, the mothers may be clinically euthyroid if their T3 levels are normal.
Description11 pages, 5 figures, 1 table, 1 appendix.
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