Relationship: 312



T4 in serum, Decreased leads to T4 in neuronal tissue, Decreased

Upstream event


T4 in serum, Decreased

Downstream event


T4 in neuronal tissue, Decreased

Key Event Relationship Overview


AOPs Referencing Relationship


Taxonomic Applicability


Term Scientific Term Evidence Link
rat Rattus norvegicus Moderate NCBI
mouse Mus musculus Moderate NCBI
human Homo sapiens Moderate NCBI

Sex Applicability


Sex Evidence
Male Moderate
Female Moderate

Life Stage Applicability


Term Evidence
During brain development High
All life stages Moderate

Key Event Relationship Description


In mammals, thyroxine (T4) in brain tissue is derived almost entirely from the circulating pool of T4 in blood. Transfer of free T4 (and to a lesser extent, T3) from serum binding proteins (thyroid binding globulin (TBG), transthyretin (TTR) and albumin; see McLean et al., 2017, for a recent review) into the brain requires transport across the blood brain barrier (BBB) and /or indirect transport from the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) into the brain through the blood-CSF-barrier.  The blood vessels in rodents and humans expresses the main T4 transporter, MCT8, (Roberts et al. 2008), as does the choroid plexus which also expresses TTR and secretes the protein into the CSF (Alshehri et al. 2015).

T4 entering the brain through the BBB is taken up into astrocytes via cell membrane iodothyronine transporters (e.g., organic anion-transporting polypeptides OATP), monocarboxylate transporter 8 (MCT8) (Visser et al., 2011).  In astrocytes, T4 is then deiodinated by Type II deiodinase to triiodothyronine (T3) (St Germain and Galton, 1997), which is then transported via other iodothyronine transporters (MCT8) into neurons (Visser et al., 2011). While some circulating T3 may be taken up into brain tissue directly from blood (Dratman et al., 1991), the majority of neuronal T3 comes from deiodination of T4 in astrocytes. Decreases in circulating T4 will eventually result in decreased brain T3 tissue concentrations. It is also known that Type II deiodinase can be up-regulated in response to decreased T4 concentrations to maintain tissue concentrations of T3 (Pedraza et al., 2007; Lavado-Autric et al., 2013; Morse et al., 1986), except in tanycytes of the paraventricular nucleus (Fekete and Lechan, 2014).

Evidence Supporting this KER


The weight of evidence linking reductions in circulating serum TH and reduced brain concentrations of TH is moderate. Many studies support this basic linkage. However, there are compensatory mechanisms (e.g., upregulation of deiodinases, transporters) that may alter the relationship between hormones in the periphery and hormone concentrations in the brain. There is limited information available on the quantitative relationship between circulating levels of TH, these compensatory processes, and neuronal T4 concentrations, especially during development. Furthermore, in certain conditions, such as iodine deficiency, the decreases in circulating hormone might have greater impacts on tissue levels of TH (see for instance, Escobar del Rey, et al., 1989).

Biological Plausibility


The biological relationship between these two KEs is strong as it is well accepted dogma within the scientific community. There is no doubt that decreased circulating T4 leads to declines in tissue concentrations of T4 and T3 in a variety of tissues, including brain. However, compensatory mechanisms (e.g., increased expression of Type 2 deiodinase) may differ during different lifestages and across different tissues, especially in different brain regions.  Similarly, the degree to which serum TH must drop to overwhelm these compensatory responses has not been established.

Empirical Evidence


Several studies have shown that tissue levels, including brain, of TH are proportional to serum hormone level (Oppenheimer, 1983; Morreale de Escobar et al., 1987; 1990; Calvo et al., 1992; Porterfield and Hendrich, 1992, 1993; Broedel et al., 2003). In thyroidectomized rats, brain concentrations of T4 were decreased and Type II deiodinase (DII) activity was increased. Both brain T3 and T4 as well as DII activity returned to normal following infusion of T4 (Escobar-Morreale et al., 1995; 1997). Animals treated with PTU, MMI, or iodine deficiency during development demonstrate both lower serum and lower brain TH concentrations (Escobar-Morreale et al 1995; 1997; Taylor et al., 2008; Bastian et al., 2012; 2014; Gilbert et al., 2013).  Compared to the wildtype, a mouse MCT8 knockout model has was shown to have decreased plasma T4, decreased uptake of T4 into the brain, and decreased brian T3 concentrations, as well as increased cortical diodinase Type 2 activity and increased plasma T3 concentrations (Mayerl et al., 2014; Barez-Lopez et al., 2016). 

Temporal Evidence: The temporal relationship between serum T4 and T4 in growing neuronal tissue described in this KER is developmental (Seed et al., 2005).  While all brain regions will be impacted by changes in serum hormones, brain concentrations will be a function of development stage and brain region. Data are available from thyroid hormone replacement studies that demonstrate recovery of fetal brain T3 and T4 levels (following low iodine diets or MMI exposure) to control levels after maternal thyroid hormone replacement or iodine supplementation (e.g., Calvo et al.,1990; Obregon et al., 1991). For example, Calvo et al. (1990) carried out a detailed study of the effects of TPO inhibition on serum and tissues levels of TH in gestating rats. Clear dose-dependent effects of T4 replacement, but not T3 replacement were seen in all maternal tissues. However, for fetal tissues, neither T4 nor T3, at any dose, could completely restore tissue TH levels to control levels.

Dose-Response Evidence:  There is good evidence, albeit from a limited number of studies of the correlative relationship between circulating thyroid hormone concentrations and brain tissue concentrations during fetal and early postnatal development following maternal iodine deficient diets or chemical treatments that depress serum THs (c.f., Calvo et al., 1990; Obregon et al., 1991; Morse et al.,1996).

Uncertainties and Inconsistencies


The fact that decreased serum TH results in lower brain TH concentrations is well accepted.  However, the ability of the developing brain to compensate for insuffiencies in serum TH has not been well studied.  Limited data is available that demonstrates that changes in local deiodination in the developing brain can compensate for chemical-induced alterations in TH concentrations (e.g., Calvo et al., 1990; Morse et al., 1996; Sharlin et al., 2010). And, there are likely different quantitative relationships between these two KEs depending on the compensatory ability based on both developmental stage and specific brain region (Sharlin et al., 2010). For these reasons, the empirical support for this linkage is rated as moderate

The role of cellular transporters represents an additional uncertainly. In addition, future work on cellular transport mechanisms and deiodinase activity is likley to inform addition of new KEs and KERs between serum and brain T4.

Quantitative Understanding of the Linkage


Response-response Relationship


While it is well established that decreased in serum TH levels result in decreased brain TH concentrations, particularly fetal brain concentrations, a major gap is the lack of empirical data that allow direct quantification of this relationship (Hassan et al., 2018). Recently, serum TH and brain TH were measured in fetal cortex and postnatal day 14 offspring following graded degrees of hypothyroidism induced by PTU (O’Shaughnessy et al., 2018). Results showed that brain levels TH levels at both ages were quantitatively related to serum T4 levels. Additional dose-response information is necessary to confirm these findings, and standardization of analysis for the measurements in these distinct matrices is crucial to allow comparisons to be made between independent experiments.



Known modulating factors


Known Feedforward/Feedback loops influencing this KER


Domain of Applicability


The majority of the information on this KER comes from in vivo studies with rodents (mainly MCT8 knock-out mice and thyroidectomized rats) and histopathological analyses of human brain tissues derived from patients affected by AHDS (Allan-Herndon-Dudley syndrome). The evoluationary conservation of the transport of TH from circulation to the developing brain suggests, with some uncertainty, that this KER is also applicable to other mammalian species.



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