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Research Article

Peripheral tissue mechanism for maintenance of serum triiodothyronine values in a thyroxine-deficient state in man.

S M Lum, J T Nicoloff, C A Spencer and E M Kaptein

Published February 1984

The present study was undertaken to define the source of endogenous triiodothyronine (T3) production responsible for maintaining serum T3 levels in euthyroid subjects with depressed serum thyroxine (T4) values. After withdrawal from 4 wk of exogenous T3 administration, a 22% decline in serum T3 values (from 129 +/- 6 to 99 +/- 4 ng/dl) was observed in six euthyroid subjects, despite a twofold reduction in serum T4 concentrations (from 7.5 +/- 0.5 to 3.2 +/- 0.5 micrograms/dl). This was accompanied by a nearly twofold increase in serum T3/T4 ratio values (17 +/- 1 to 29 +/- 6) but no significant alteration in reverse T3/T4 ratio values. This phenomenon did not appear to be thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) dependent, since base-line serum TSH values were subnormal. Nor was it dependent on changes in thyroid gland function, since a blunted T3 response to exogenous bovine TSH occurred and pharmacologic doses of iodide did not influence the phenomenon. The finding in three athyreotic subjects that serum T3/T4 ratio values increased from 14 +/- 1 on T4 therapy (mean serum T4, 9.6 +/- 0.8 micrograms/dl and T3, 132 +/- 8 ng/dl) to 40 +/- 2 after withdrawal from 2 wk of T3 administration (serum T4 1.2 +/- 0.1 micrograms/dl and T3 46 +/- 3 ng/dl) provided direct evidence that an alteration in peripheral thyroid hormone metabolism was probably responsible for these findings previously observed in euthyroid subjects. The results of this study support the possible existence in euthyroid man of a peripheral tissue autoregulatory mechanism for maintaining serum T3 values in states of T4 deficiency. Whether this process involves an alteration in the efficiency of T4 to T3 conversion or the rate of T3 clearance is presently unknown.

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