Event: 281

Key Event Title


Thyroxine (T4) in serum, Decreased

Short name


T4 in serum, Decreased

Biological Context


Level of Biological Organization

Organ term


Organ term

Key Event Components


Process Object Action
abnormal circulating thyroxine level thyroxine decreased

Key Event Overview

AOPs Including This Key Event




Taxonomic Applicability


Term Scientific Term Evidence Link
human Homo sapiens High NCBI
rat Rattus norvegicus High NCBI
mouse Mus musculus High NCBI
chicken Gallus gallus Moderate NCBI
Xenopus laevis Xenopus laevis Moderate NCBI
Pig Pig High NCBI
zebrafish Danio rerio High NCBI
fathead minnow Pimephales promelas High NCBI

Life Stages


Life stage Evidence
All life stages High

Sex Applicability


Term Evidence
Female High
Male High

Key Event Description


All iodothyronines are derived from the modification of tyrosine molecules (Taurog, 2000). There are two biologically active thyroid hormones (THs) in serum, triiodothyronine (T3) and T4, and a few inactive iodothyronines (rT3, 3,5-T2).  T4 is the predominant TH in circulation, comprising approximately 80% of the TH excreted from the thyroid gland and is the pool from which the majority of T3 in serum is generated (Zoeller et al., 2007). As such, serum T4 changes usually precede changes in other serum THs.  Decreased thyroxine (T4) in serum results result from one or more MIEs upstream and is considered a key biomarker of altered TH homeostasis (DeVito et al., 1999). 

Serum T4 is used as a biomarker of TH status because the circulatory system serves as the major transport and delivery system for TH delivery to tissues. The majority of THs in the blood are bound to transport proteins (Bartalena and Robbins, 1993). In serum, it is the unbound, or ‘free’ form of the hormone that is thought to be available for transport into tissues. Free hormones are approximately 0.03 and 0.3 percent for T4 and T3, respectively. There are major species differences in the predominant binding proteins and their affinities for THs (see below). However, there is broad agreement that changes in serum concentrations of THs is diagnostic of thyroid disease or chemical-induced disruption of thyroid homeostasis (DeVito et al., 1999; Miller et al., 2009; Zoeller et al., 2007).

Normal serum T4 reference ranges can be species and lifestage specific. In rodents, serum THs are low in the fetal circulation, increasing as the fetal thyroid gland becomes functional on gestational day 17, just a few days prior to birth. After birth serum hormones increase steadily, peaking at two weeks, and falling slightly to adult levels by postnatal day 21 (Walker et al., 1980; Harris et al., 1978; Goldey et al., 1995; Lau et al., 2003). Similarly, in humans, adult reference ranges for THs do not reflect the normal ranges for children at different developmental stages, with TH concentrations highest in infants, still increased in childhood, prior to a decline to adult levels coincident with pubertal development (Corcoran et al. 1977; Kapelari et al., 2008). In some frog species, there is an analogous peak in thyroid hormones in tadpoles that starts around embryonic NF stage 56, peaks at Stage 62 and the declines to lower levels by Stage 56 (Sternberg et al., 2011; Leloup and Buscaglia, 1977). 

How It Is Measured or Detected


Serum T3 and T4 can be measured as free (unbound) or total (bound + unbound). Free hormone concentrations are clinically considered more direct indicators of T4 and T3 activities in the body, but in animal studies, total T3 and T4 are typically measured. Historically, the most widely used method in toxicology is the radioimmunoassay (RIA). The method is routinely used in rodent endocrine and toxicity studies. The ELISA method is a commonly used as a human clinical test method. Analytical determination of iodothyronines (T3, T4, rT3, T2) and their conjugates, though methods employing HPLC, liquid chromatography, immuno luminescence, and mass spectrometry are less common, but are becoming increasingly available (Hornung et al., 2015; DeVito et al., 1999; Baret and Fert, 1989; Spencer, 2013; Samanidou V.F et al., 2000; Rathmann D. et al., 2015 ).  It is important to note that thyroid hormones concentrations can be influenced by a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors (e.g., circadian rhythms, stress, food intake, housing, noise) (see for example, Döhler et al., 1979).

Any of these measurements should be evaluated for the relationship to the actual endpoint of interest, repeatability, reproducibility, and lower limits of quantification using a fit-for-purpose approach (i.e., different regulatory needs will require different levels of confidence in the AOP). This is of particular significance when assessing the very low levels of TH present in fetal serum. Detection limits of the assay must be compatible with the levels in the biological sample.  All three of the methods summarized above would be fit-for-purpose, depending on the number of samples to be evaluated and the associated costs of each method. Both RIA and ELISA measure THs by an indirect methodology, whereas analytical determination is the most direct measurement available. All these methods, particularly RIA, are repeatable and reproducible.


Domain of Applicability


The overall evidence supporting taxonomic applicability is strong. THs are evolutionarily conserved molecules present in all vertebrate species (Hulbert, 2000; Yen, 2001). Moreover, their crucial role in zebrafish (Thienpont et al., 2011), amphibian and lamprey metamorphoses is well established (Manzon and Youson, 1997; Yaoita and Brown, 1990; Furlow and Neff, 2006). Their existence and importance has also been described in many different animal and plant kingdoms (Eales, 1997; Heyland and Moroz, 2005), while their role as environmental messenger via exogenous routes in echinoderms confirms the hypothesis that these molecules are widely distributed among the living organisms (Heyland and Hodin, 2004). However, the role of TH in the different species depends on the expression and function of specific proteins (e.g receptors or enzymes) under TH control and may vary across species and tissues. As such extrapolation regarding TH action across species should be done with caution.

With few exceptions, vertebrate species have circulating T4 (and T3) that are bound to transport proteins in blood. Clear species differences exist in serum transport proteins (Dohler et al., 1979; Yamauchi and Isihara, 2009). There are three major transport proteins in mammals; thyroid binding globulin (TBG), transthyretin (TTR), and albumin. In adult humans, the percent bound to these proteins is about 75, 15 and 10 percent, respectively (Schussler 2000).  In contrast, in adult rats the majority of THs are bound to TTR. Thyroid binding proteins are developmentally regulated in rats. TBG is expressed in rats until approximately postnatal day (PND) 60, with peak expression occurring during weaning (Savu et al., 1989). However, low levels of TBG persist into adult ages in rats and can be experimentally induced by hypothyroidism, malnutrition, or caloric restriction (Rouaze-Romet et al., 1992). While these species differences impact TH half-life (Capen, 1997) and possibly regulatory feedback mechanisms, there is little information on quantitative dose-response relationships of binding proteins and serum hormones during development across different species. Serum THs are still regarded as the most robust measurable key event causally linked to downstream adverse outcomes.

Evidence for Perturbation by Stressor


6-n-propylthouracil is a classic positive control for inhibition of TPO


Perchlorate ion (ClO− ₄) is a classic positive control for inhibition of NIS


Classic positive control



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