Circulating thyrotropin bioactivity in sporadic central hypothyroidism

Luca Persani, Elisabetta Ferretti, Stefano Borgato, Giovanni Faglia, Paolo Beck-Peccoz

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The etiopathogenesis of sporadic central hypothyroidism (CH) involves pituitary and hypothalamic lesions. Pituitary CH (pCH) implies a diminished number of functioning thyrotropes, accounting for the quantitative impairment of TSH secretion. Hypothalamic CH (hCH) is characterized by normal or even increased TSH concentrations and qualitative abnormalities of TSH secretion, including a decreased bioactivity of circulating TSH. However, controversy still exists about the actual occurrence of bioinactive TSH among CH patients, and no data are available in pCH. Therefore, we studied 41 CH patients with different hypothalamic-pituitary disorders. Immunoreactive TSH (TSH-I) ranged from 0.08-11.1 mU/L (normal, 0.24-4.0), free T4 (FT4) ranged from 0.6-8.8 pmol/L (normal, 9-18), and FT3 ranged from 1.2-5.4 pmol/L (normal, 4-8). A blunted TSH response to TRH (4 (P <0.02), indicating the relevance of pituitary TSH reserve in the pathogenesis of CH. Circulating TSH was immunoconcentrated and tested in bioassay and in ricin affinity chromatography. The ratio between biological (B) and immunological (I) activities of circulating TSH was reduced (n = 25; TSH B/I, 0.38 ± 0.19) compared to the values recorded in normal subjects (n = 26; TSH B/I, 1.53 ± 0.54; P <0.001) and primary hypothyroid patients (n = 24; TSH B/I, 0.74 ± 0.31; P <0.001), but no difference between pCH (n = 9; 0.36 ± 0.16) and hCH (n = 16; 0.39 ± 0.20) was seen. TSH B/I values in CH patients showed a limited overlap with normal values (20%) and a highly significant correlation with the FT3 response to endogenous TRH-stimulated TSH (P <0.005). The elevated sialylation degree of TSH molecules may explain part of these findings. In conclusion, the secretion of TSH molecules with reduced bioactivity is a common alteration in the patients with hypothalamic-pituitary lesions, contributing along with the impairment of pituitary TSH reserve to the pathogenesis of CH.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3631-3635
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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