Key Event Overview
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AOPs Including This Key Event
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Level of Biological Organization
How this Key Event works
There are two biological active thyroid hormones (THs), triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), and a few inactive iodothyronines (rT3, 3,5-T2), which are all derived from the modification of tyrosine molecules (Hulbert, 2000). However, the plasma concentrations of the other iodothyronines are significantly lower than those of T3 and T4. The different iodothyronines are formed by the sequential outer or inner ring monodeiodination of T4 by the deiodinating enzymes, Dio1, Dio2, and Dio3 (Gereben et al., 2008). Deiodinase structure is considered to be unique, as THs are the only molecules in the body that incorporate iodide.
The circulatory system serves as the major transport and delivery system for THs from synthesis in the gland to delivery to tissues. The majority of THs in the blood are bound to transport proteins (Bartalena and Robbins, 1993). In humans, the major transport proteins are TBG (thyroxine binding globulin), TTR (transthyretin) and albumin. The percent bound to these proteins in adult humans is about 75, 15 and 10 percent, respectively (Schussler 2000). Unbound (free) hormones are approximately 0.03 and 0.3 percent for T4 and T3, respectively. In serum, it is the free form of the hormone that is active.
There are major species differences in the predominant binding proteins and their affinities for THs (see section below on Taxonomic applicability). However, there is broad agreement that changes in serum concentrations of THs is diagnostic of thyroid disease or chemical-induced disruption of thyroid homeostasis (Zoeller et al., 2007).
It is notable that the changes measured in the TH concentration reflect mainly the changes in the serum transport proteins rather than changes in the thyroid status. These thyroid-binding proteins serve as hormonal store which ensure their even and constant distribution in the different tissues, while they protect the most sensitive ones in the case of severe changes in thyroid availability, like in thyroidectomies (Obregon et al., 1981). Until recently, it was believed that all of the effects of TH were mediated by the binding of T3 to the thyroid nuclear receptors (TRa and TRb), a notion which is now questionable due to the increasing evidence that support the non-genomic action of TH (Davis et al., 2010, Moeller et al., 2006). Many non-nuclear TH binding sites have been identified to date and they usually lead to rapid cellular response in TH-effects (Bassett et al., 2003), but the specific pathways that are activated in this regard need to be elucidated.
The production of THs in the thyroid gland and the circulation levels in the bloodstream are self-controlled by an efficiently regulated feedback mechanism across the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Thyroid (HPT) axis. One of the most unique characteristics of TH is their ability to regulate their own concentration, not only in the plasma level, but also in the individual cell level, to maintain their homeostasis. This is succeed by the efficient regulatory mechanism of the thyroid hormone axis which consists of the following: (1) the hypothalamic secretion of the thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), (2) the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) secretion from the anterior pituitary, (3) hormonal transport by the plasma binding proteins, (4) cellular uptake mechanisms in the cell level, (5) intracellular control of TH concentration by the deiodinating mechanism (6) transcriptional function of the nuclear thyroid hormone receptor and (7) in the fetus, the transplacental passage of T4 and T3 (Cheng et al., 2010).
In regards to the brain, the TH concentration involves also an additional level of regulation, namely the hormonal transport through the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB) (Williams, 2008). The TRH and the TSH are actually regulating the production of pro-hormone T4 and in a lesser extent of T3, which is the biologically active TH. The rest of the required amount of T3 is produced by outer ring deiodination of T4 by the deiodinating enzymes D1 and D2 (Bianco et al., 2006), a process which takes place mainly in liver and kidneys but also in other target organs such as in the brain, the anterior pituitary, brown adipose tissue, thyroid and skeletal muscle (Gereben et al., 2008; Larsen, 2009). Both hormones exert their action in almost all tissues of mammals and they are acting intracellularly, and thus the uptake of T3 and T4 by the target cells is a crucial step of the overall pathway. The trans-membrane transport of TH is performed mainly through transporters that differ depending on the cell type (Hennemann et al., 2001; Friesema et al., 2005; Visser et al., 2008). Many transporter proteins have been identified up to date but the monocarboxylate transporters (Mct8, Mct10) and the anion-transporting polypeptide (OATP1c1) show the highest degree of affinity towards TH (Jansen et al., 2005).
T3 and T4 have significant effects on normal development, neural differentiation, growth rate and metabolism (Yen, 2001; Brent, 2012; Williams, 2008), with the most prominent ones to occur during the fetal development and early childhood. The clinical features of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism emphasize the pleiotropic effects of these hormones on many different pathways and target organs. The thyroidal actions though are not only restricted to mammals, as their high significance has been identified also for other vertebrates, with the most well-studied to be the amphibian metamorphosis (Furlow and Neff, 2006). The importance of the thyroid-regulated pathways becomes more apparent in iodine deficient areas of the world, where a higher rate of cretinism and growth retardation has been observed and linked to decreased TH levels (Gilbert et al., 2012). Another very common cause of severe hypothyroidism in human is the congenital hypothyroidism, but the manifestation of these effects is only detectable in the lack of adequate treatment and is mainly related to neurological impairment and growth retardation (Glinoer, 2001), emphasizing the role of TH in neurodevelopment in all above cases. In adults, the thyroid-related effects are mainly linked to metabolic activities, such as deficiencies in oxygen consumption, and in the metabolism of the vitamin, proteins, lipids and carbohydrates, but these defects are subtle and reversible (Oetting and Yen, 2007). Blood tests to detect the amount of thyroid hormone (T4) and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) are routinely done for newborn babies for the diagnosis of congenital hypothyroidism at the earliest stage possible.
How it is Measured or Detected
T3 and T4 can be measured as free (unbound) or total (bound + unbound). Free hormone are considered more direct indicators of T4 and T3 activities in the body. The majority of T3 and T4 measurements are made using either RIA or ELISA kits. In animal studies, total T3 and T4 are typically measured as the concentrations of free hormone are very low and difficult to detect. Historically, the most widely used method in toxicology is RIA. The method is routinely used in rodent endocrine and toxicity studies. The ELISA method has become more routine in rodent studies. The ELISA method is a commonly used as a human clinical test method. Least common is analytical determination of iodothyronines (T3, T4, rT3, T2) and their conjugates, though methods employing HLPC and mass spectrometry (DeVito et al., 1999; Miller et al., 2009).
Any of these measurements should be evaluated for fit-for-purpose, relationship to the actual endpoint of interest, repeatability, and reproducibility. 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 a an indirect methodology, whereas analytical determination is the most direct measurement available. All of these methods, particularly RIA, are repeatable and reproducible.
Evidence Supporting Taxonomic Applicability
The overall evidence supporting taxonomic applicability is strong. With few exceptions vertebrate species have circulating T3 and T4 that are bound to transport proteins in blood. Clear species differences exist in transport proteins (Yamauchi and Isihara, 2009). Specifically, the majority of supporting data for TH decreases in serum come from rat studies, and the predominant iodothyronine binding protein in rat serum is transthyretin (TT4). TT4 demonstrates a reduced binding affinity for T4 when compared with thyroxine binding globulin (TBG), the predominant serum binding protein for T4 in humans. This difference in serum binding protein affinity for THs is thought to modulate serum half-life for T4; the half-life of T4 in rats is 12-24 hr, wherease the half-life in humans is 5-9 days (Capen, 1997). While these species differences impact hormone half-life, possibly regulatory feedback mechanisms, and quantitative dose-response relationships, measurement of serum THs is still regarded as a measurable key event causatively linked to downstream adverse outcomes.
THs are evolutionarily conserved molecules present in all vertebrate species (Hulbert, 2000; Yen, 2001). Moreover, their crucial role in amphibian and larbean metamorphoses is well established (Manzon and Youson, 1997; Yaoita and Brown, 1990). Their existence and importance has been also described in many differrent 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 may differ depending on the expression or function of specific proteins (e.g receptors or enzymes) that are related to TH function, and therefore extrapolation between species should be done with cautious.
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