The thyrotropin (TSH) receptor is a putative target for autoantibodies in Graves' hyperthyroidism and therefore, should be capable of being identified, isolated, and structurally characterized by immunological means. To this end, four sera from patients with hyperthyroidism, three of which inhibited the binding of 125I-TSH to Triton-solubilized human thyroid membranes, were used to isolate TSH receptors by immunoprecipitation. To account for an effect of TSH binding or receptor occupancy on the ability of Graves' immunoglobulins to precipitate TSH receptors, two approaches were taken: (a) specific 125I-TSH binding activity was measured after solubilized thyroid membranes had been incubated with Graves' sera followed by precipitation with Staphylococcus protein A ("receptor depletion"); (b) TSH binding sites were labeled with 125I-TSH and the complexes were precipitated using Graves' sera and Staphylococcus protein A ("receptor precipitation"). The three sera which inhibited 125I-TSH binding depleted 125I-TSH binding activity between 30-80%. Preformed complexes between Staphylococcus protein A and immunoglobulins in these sera were also able to deplete 125I-TSH binding activity. However, after receptor depletion, the one serum that did not inhibit 125I-TSH binding was associated with a significant increase in 125I-TSH binding. All four sera specifically precipitated 80-100% of receptors identified by prelabeling with 125I-TSH. The dilutions of sera that precipitated 50% of 125I-TSH-receptor complexes ranged from 1:150-1:20. Complexes were partially precipitated by high concentrations of control sera (1:20), but the relative potency of control sera was at least fourfold less than Graves' sera. Immunoprecipitates of 125I-labeled thyroid membranes were analysed by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and autoradiography to reveal Graves'-specific bands of reduced molecular weights of 100-110,000, 80-90,000, and 70-75,000. These bands were similar to those obtained from 125I-labeled thyroid membranes purified by TSH affinity chromatography. Thus, Graves' immunoglobulins: (a) precipitate unoccupied and occupied TSH receptors, (b) in one case, neither inhibit binding nor immunodeplete the unoccupied receptor but immunoprecipitate 125I-TSH-receptor complexes, suggesting that binding of TSH may initiate an interaction between the binding site and a separate immunoreactive molecule, and (c) identify the molecular structure of Graves' autoantigens, putatively, the TSH receptor.
P Heyma, L C Harrison