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Research Article

Thymic hyperplasia in patients with Graves' disease. Identification of thyrotropin receptors in human thymus.

M Murakami, Y Hosoi, T Negishi, Y Kamiya, K Miyashita, M Yamada, T Iriuchijima, H Yokoo, I Yoshida, Y Tsushima and M Mori

First Department of Internal Medicine, Gunma University School of Medicine, Maebashi, Japan.

Published November 15, 1996

Thymic size and density were studied in 23 untreated patients with Graves' disease and 38 control subjects using computed tomography. Both thymic size and density were higher in untreated patients with Graves' disease than in control subjects in the age-matched group. After treatment with antithyroid drugs, both thymic size and density were significantly reduced, with a concomitant decrease in thyrotropin receptor antibodies. PCR of human thymic cDNA using primers for human thyrotropin receptor amplified a fragment in a size expected for the receptor, and its nucleotide sequence was identical to human thyrotropin receptor cDNA in the thyroid. Northern blot analysis of human thymic poly(A)+ RNA demonstrated the presence of the full length form of thyrotropin receptor mRNA. Western blot analysis of human thymic membrane using anti-thyrotropin receptor peptide antibodies demonstrated a band of 100 kD that was also observed in the thyroid membrane. Immunohistochemistry of thymic tissue using mouse antihuman thyrotropin receptor monoclonal antibodies demonstrated the immunostaining of epithelial cells. These results indicate that thymic hyperplasia is apparently associated with Graves' disease and suggest that thymic thyrotropin receptor may act as an autoantigen that may be involved in the pathophysiology of development of Graves' disease.