Relationship: 872



Thyroidal Iodide, Decreased leads to TH synthesis, Decreased

Upstream event


Thyroidal Iodide, Decreased

Downstream event


TH synthesis, Decreased

Key Event Relationship Overview


AOPs Referencing Relationship


Taxonomic Applicability


Term Scientific Term Evidence Link
human Homo sapiens High NCBI
rat Rattus norvegicus High NCBI

Sex Applicability


Sex Evidence
Mixed High

Life Stage Applicability


Term Evidence
During brain development High

Key Event Relationship Description


Thyroid hormones (THs), thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) are synthesized in the thyroid gland in the presence of functional NIS and thyroid peroxidase (TPO) as iodinated thyroglobulin (Tg), and stored in the colloid of thyroid follicles. NIS is a membrane bound glycoprotein whose main physiological function is to transport one iodide ion along with two sodium ions across the basolateral membrane of thyroid follicular cells. Extensive studies on NIS protein have identified 14 different mutations and each one of them is related to Iodine Transport Deficiencies (ITD) (Spitzweg and Morris, 2010). Once inside the follicular cells, the iodide diffuses to the apical membrane, where it is metabolically oxidized through the action of TPO to iodinium (I+), which in turn iodinates tyrosine residues of the Tg proteins in the follicle colloid. Therefore, NIS is essential for the synthesis of thyroid hormones (T3 and T4). TPO is a heme-containing apical membrane protein within the follicular lumen of thyrocytes that acts as the enzymatic catalyst for TH synthesis (Taurog, 2005). Propylthiouracil (PTU) and methimazole (MMI), are thioureylene drugs that are known to inhibit the ability of TPO to: a) activate iodine and transfer it to thyroglobulin (Tg) (Davidson et al., 1978) and, b) couple thyroglobulin (Tg)-bound iodotyrosyls to produce Tg-bound T3 and T4 (Taurog, 2005). PTU and MMI have been found to decrease also the expression of NIS mRNA and consequently iodide accumulation, as shown in FRTL-5 cells (Spitzweg et al. 1999).

Other compounds, such as triclosan, triclocarban, 2,2',4,4'-tetrabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-47), and bisphenol A (BPA) have been reported to decrease thyroid hormone (TH) levels by inducing an inhibition of NIS-mediated iodide uptake and altering the expression of genes involved in TH synthesis in rat thyroid follicular FRTL-5 cells, and on the activity of thyroid peroxidase (TPO), using rat thyroid microsomes (Wu Y et al. 2016).

Perchlorate, thiocyanate, nitrate, and iodide, which are competitive inhibitors of iodide uptake, have been shown to inhibit radioactive iodide uptake by NIS (Tonacchera et al. 2004), consequentially resulting in inhibition of TH synthesis. In particular, perchlorate blocks iodide uptake into the thyroid through NIS inhibition and decreases the production of TH (Steinmaus, 2016a). More recent evidence also suggests that young children, pregnant women, foetuses, and people co-exposed to similarly acting agents may be especially susceptible to perchlorate-induced toxicity (Steinmaus et al., 2016b).

Concern about environmental perchlorate exposure is focused on its inhibition of iodide uptake into the thyroid (MIE). Decreased iodine intake may decrease thyroid hormone production. Perchlorate exposure, therefore, might be particularly detrimental in iodine-deficient individuals. Median urinary iodine levels are used instead and reflect dietary iodine sufficiency across populations (International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD); available from: www.iccidd.org). According to ICCIDD report Iodine deficiency continues to be an important global public health issue, with an estimated 2.2 million people (38% of the world's population) living in iodine-deficient areas. In 1990, the United Nations World Summit for Children set forth the goal of eliminating iodine deficiency worldwide (UNICEF World Summit for Children. Available from: http://www.unicef.org/wsc/declare.htm; 1990).  Considerable progress has been achieved by programmes of universal salt iodisation (USI) in various countries, in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) (WHO, UNICEF, ICCIDD. A guide for programme managers. World Health Organization; Geneva: 2007. Assessment of the iodine deficiency disorders and monitoring their elimination.WHO/NHD/01.1). However, many countries remain iodine deficient (de Benoist et al., 2013; Lazarus and Delange, 2004). In the U.S., data from large population studies have shown that median urinary iodine levels decreased by approximately 50% between the early 1970s and the early 1990s, although the population overall remained iodine sufficient (Hollowell et al., 1998). Subsequent studies have shown that this decrease has stabilised (Caldwell et al., 2005). The WHO still considers iodine deficiency, which leads to hypothyroidism, the single most important preventable cause of brain damage worldwide (WHO/UNICEF/ICCIDD, 2007). The most vulnerable groups are pregnant and lactating women and their developing fetuses and neonates, given the crucial importance of iodine to ensure adequate levels of thyroid hormones for brain maturation. Iodine deficiency in pregnancy is a prevailing problem not only in developing countries, but also in western industrialized nations and other countries classified as free of iodine deficiency, and solution may be found in dietary changes (Moog et al., 2017).

Evidence Supporting this KER


Biological Plausibility


The association between these two KEs is strong, and supported by in vitro, in vivo and epidemiological studies. Blocking iodide uptake into the thyroid follicular cells as a consequence of NIS inhibition or functional impairment, leads to reduced TH synthesis. Compounds that have been shown to inhibit NIS function (e.g., perchlorate, thiocyanate, nitrate, and iodide), has also been proven to decrease TH synthesis by inducing a downregulation of TPO gene expression and/or increase of TSH level, which are both indicative of a reduce TH biosynthesis. TSH receptor controls transcription and posttranslational modification of NIS (Dai et al., 1996). Stimulation of TSH receptor increases T3 and T4 production and secretion (Szkudlinski et al., 2002). NIS gene expression is suppressed by growth factors such as IGF-1 and TGF-β (the latter is induced by the BRAF-V600E oncogene), which prevent NIS to localize in the basolateral membrane (Riesco-Eizaguirre et al., 2009). The BRAF-V600E oncogene is also associated with downregulation TSH receptor (Kleiman et al. 2013). Altogether these studies support the association between NIS inhibition-induced decreased iodide uptake (KE up) and reduced TH synthesis (KE down).

Empirical Evidence


Several in vitro and epidemiological studies have shown that iodide uptake blockade occurring as a consequence of NIS (and TPO) inhibition leads to reduced TH synthesis:

- Spitzweg et al., 1999: In this in vitro study, a 48 hr treatment of FRTL-5 cells with MMI (100 µM), PTU (100 µM), and potassium iodide (40 µM) induced ~ 50% decrease of NIS mRNA steady-state levels. Incubation with MMI and PTU resulted in a 20% and 25% decrease of iodide accumulation, respectively, whereas potassium iodide suppressed iodide accumulation by approximately 50%.

- Wu Y et al., 2016: This in vitro study showed that triclosan, triclocarban, 2,2',4,4'-tetrabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-47), and bisphenol A (BPA) induced a concentration-dependent inhibition of NIS-mediated iodide uptake. Moreover,  triclosan or triclocarban did not affect the expression of genes involved in TH synthesis (Slc5a5, TPO, and Tgo) or thyroid transcription factors (Pax8, Foxe1, and Nkx2-1), BDE-47 decreased the level of TPO, while BPA altered the expression of all six genes, as shown in rat thyroid follicular FRTL-5 cells. At the same time, triclosan and triclocarban also inhibited the activity of TPO at 166 and >300 μM, respectively. 

- Steinmaus et al., 2016b: In 1,880 pregnant women from San Diego County, California, during 2000–2003, it has been found that the presence of high level of perchlorate, thiocyanate, nitrate, and iodide in water supply induced a decrease of total thyroxine (T4) [regression coefficient (β) = –0.70; 95% CI: –1.06, –0.34], a decrease of free thyroxine (fT4) (β = –0.053; 95% CI: –0.092, –0.013), and an increase of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), all indicators of reduced TH synthesis.

- Horton et al., 2015: in this study TSH levels measured in blood samples of 284 pregnant women at 12 (± 2.8) weeks gestation were found to positively correlate with the levels of urinary concentrations of perchlorate, nitrate and thiocyanate (NIS inhibitors), but perchlorate had the largest weight in the index, indicating the largest contribution to the weighted quantile sum regression. This indicates a perchlorate-dependent alteration of maternal thyroid function, through NIS inhibition.

- Brechner et al., 2000: Median newborn TSH levels in a city where drinking water supply was perchlorate-contaminated (from the Colorado River below Lake Mead) were significantly higher than those in a city totally supplied with non-perchlorate-contaminated drinking water, even after adjusting for factors known or suspected to elevate newborn TSH levels.

- Charatcharoenwitthaya et al. 2014: this cross-sectional epidemiological study conducted in 200 pregnant Thai women with a gestational age of 14 weeks or less, showed that low-level exposure to perchlorate (i.e., 1.9 μg/L of urinary perchlorate) was positively associated with TSH and negatively associated with free T4 using multivariate analyses in first-trimester pregnant women. Low thiocyanate urinary levels (510.5 μg/L) were also positively associated with TSH in a subgroup of pregnant women with low iodine excretion (less than 100 μg/L).

Several other studies have proven that NIS inhibitors lead to a decrease of thyroidal iodide uptake (Jones et al., 1996; Tonacchera et al., 2004; De Groef et al., 2006; Waltz et al., 2010), leading to a reduction of TH synthesis.

Uncertainties and Inconsistencies


Some studies have highlighted contradictory results in relation to response to chemicals. For instance, PTU and MMI have been shown to inhibit the activity of TPO in rats (Davidson et al., 1978), while inducing an increase of cellular TPO activity and TPO mRNA in cultured porcine thyroid follicles (Sugawara et al., 1999). PTU was also found to increase NIS gene expression, and the accumulation of 125I, as shown in in rat thyroid FRTL-5 cells, while MMI had no effect (Sue et al., 2012).

Moreover, despite the well described effects of perchlorate, thiocyanate, nitrate, and iodide on iodide uptake into the thyroid, occupational and clinical dosing studies have not identified clear adverse effects, particularly in the case of perchlorate (Tarone et al. 2010). For instance, a longitudinal epidemiologic Chilean study found that there were no increases of thyroglobulin (Tg) or thyrotropin (TSH) levels, and no decreases of free T4 levels among either women during early pregnancy, late pregnancy, or the neonates at birth related to perchlorate in drinking water, suggesting that perchlorate in drinking water at 114 microg/L did not cause changes in neonatal thyroid function or fetal growth retardation (Téllez Téllez et al., 2005). Similarly, no associations between urine perchlorate concentrations and serum TSH or free T4 were found in individual euthyroid or hypothyroid/hypothyroxinemic cohorts of 261 hypothyroid/hypothyroxinemic and 526 euthyroid women from Turin and 374 hypothyroid/hypothyroxinemic and 480 euthyroid women from Cardiff (Pearce et al., 2010), suggesting that log perchlorate may not be a predictor of serum free T4 or TSH. However, it should be considered that these studies may be limited by short study durations, and the inclusion of mostly healthy adults (Steinmaus, 2016b).

Charnley's (2008) review examines several studies pointing out a number of inconsistent conclusions regarding link between TH serum levels, urinary iodine concentrations, and environmental perchlorate exposure (Charnley et al. 2008). For instance, no correlations were found between TH serum levels and urinary iodine concentrations among women exposed to perchlorate participating in the 2000-2001 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Available evidence does not support a causal relationship between changes in TH levels and current environmental levels of perchlorate exposure, but does support the conclusion that the US EPA's reference dose (RfD) for perchlorate is conservatively health-protective. However, potential perchlorate risks are unlikely to be distinguishable from the ubiquitous background of naturally occurring substances present at much higher exposures that can affect the thyroid via the same biological mode of action as perchlorate, such as nitrate and thiocyanate. Therefore, risk management approaches that account for both aggregate and cumulative exposures and that consider the larger public health context in which exposures are occurring are desirable.

In a cross-sectional analysis, McMullen et al. (2017) evaluated the exposure to perchlorate, thiocyanate, and nitrate in 3151 participants aged 12 to 80, to assess whether sensitivity  to perchlorate, thiocyanate, and nitrate (NIS inhibitors) could be a factor of age and sex. These results indicate that adolescent boys and girls represent the most vulnerable subpopulations to NIS symporter inhibitors. Therefore, discrepancies in results described in epidemiological studies may be due to difference in age of study participants. 

Apart from age, relative source contribution of perchlorate exposure plays an important role in determining a significant reduction of serum TH levels. For instance, Lumen and George (2017) showed that there was no significant difference in geometric mean estimates of free T4 when perchlorate exposure from food only was compared to no perchlorate exposure in pregnant women. The reduction in maternal free T4 levels reached statistical significance when an added contribution from drinking water was assumed in addition to the 90th percentile of food intake for pregnant women. In particular, a daily intake of 0.45- 0.50μg/kg/day of perchlorate was necessary to produce results that were significantly different than those obtained from no perchlorate exposure. The authors comment that 'these modelling results can explain why findings from observational studies present inconsistent outcomes regarding the relationship between perchlorate exposure and thyroid hormone levels'."

Quantitative Understanding of the Linkage


In vitro and in vivo studies have specifically reported data supporting quantitative understanding of this KER.

- Gilbert et al., 2011: This in vivo study examined the relationship between graded levels of iodine (ID) in rats and serum thyroid hormones levels, thyroid iodine content, and urinary iodide excretion. The study provided parametric and dose-response information for development of a quantitative model of the thyroid axis. Female Long Evans rats were fed casein-based diets containing varying iodine (I) concentrations for 8 weeks. Diets were created by adding 975, 200, 125, 25, or 0 μg/kg I to the base diet (~25 μg I/kg chow) to produce 5 nominal I levels, ranging from excess (basal+added I, Treatment 1: 1000 μg I/kg chow) to deficient (Treatment 5: 25 μg I/kg chow). Food intake and body weight were monitored throughout and on 2 consecutive days each week over the 8-week exposure period, animals were placed in metabolism cages to capture urine. Food, water intake, and body weight gain did not differ among treatment groups. Serum T4 was dose-dependently reduced relative to Treatment 1 with significant declines (19 and 48%) at the two lowest I groups, and no significant changes in serum T3 or TSH were detected. Increases in thyroid weight and decreases in thyroidal and urinary iodide content were observed as a function of decreasing ID in the diet. Data were compared with predictions from a published biologically based dose-response (BBDR) model for ID. These results challenged existing models and provide essential information for development of quantitative BBDR models for ID during pregnancy and lactation.

- Spitzweg et al., 1999:  this in vitro study showed that inhibition of TH synthesis (induced by TPO specific inhibitors) decreases the expression of NIS. A 48 hr treatment of FRTL-5 cells with the TPO specific inhibitors MMI (100 µM), PTU (100 µM), and potassium iodide (40 µM), induced a ~ 50% decrease of NIS RNA steady-state levels. Incubation with MMI and PTU resulted in a 20% and 25% decrease of iodide accumulation, respectively, whereas potassium iodide suppressed iodide accumulation by approximately 50%.

- Wu F et al., 2012: An in vivo study found that high dose of NIS inhibitor perchlorate (520 mg/kg b.wt.) in Sprague-Dawley rats (28-day old) caused a decrease of Tg (~ 50% lower than control), and TPO (~ 45% lower than control) gene expression, indicative of reduced TH biosynthesis, together with a decrease of free T3 (~ 50% lower than control) and free T4 levels (~ 50% lower than control), and a remarkable increase of TSH levels (125% higher than control) (Wu F et al. 2012).

Additional studies with quantitative data for this KER are also described in Empirical Support for Linkage. However, further studies are needed in order to drive global conclusions about the magnitude of iodide uptake inhibition required to impact TH synthesis.

Response-response Relationship




Known modulating factors


Known Feedforward/Feedback loops influencing this KER


Domain of Applicability


Empirical evidence comes from in vivo studies in rats (Wu F et al., 2012; Davidson et al., 1978), in vitro studies using thyroid follicular rat cells (Spitzweg et al., 1999; Sue et al., 2012) and porcine thyroid follicles (Sugawara et al., 1999), and human epidemiological studies (Steinmaus et al., 2016b; Horton et al., 2015; Brechner et al., 2000)



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