Thyrotropin secretion in patients with central hypothyroidism: Evidence for reduced biological activity of immunoreactive thyrotropin

G. Faglia, L. Bitensky, A. Pinchera, C. Ferrari, A. Paracchi, P. Beck-Peccoz, B. Ambrosi, A. Spada

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TSH concentration was measured in plasma before and after TRH administration (200 μg, iv) in 89 patients with documented hypothyroidism consequent to various hypothalamic-pituitary disorders. Basal plasma TSH was less than 1.0 μU/ml in 34.8%, between 1.0-3.6 μU/ml in 40.5% and slightly elevated (3.7-9.7 μU/ml) in 24.7% of the cases. The plasma TSH response to TRH was absent in 13.5%, impaired in 16.8%, normal in 47.2%, and exaggerated in 22.5% of the cases, with delayed and/or prolonged pattern of response in 65% of the cases. The dilution curves of several plasmas drawn both before and after TRH were parallel to those obtained with TSH standard preparation. After gel filtration, the elution pattern of TRH-stimulated plasmas from 4 patients did not show any major difference from that of pooled plasmas from normal subjects given TRH or from that of patients with primary hypothyroidism. Plasma TSH values determined by cytochemical bioassay on both basal and TRH-stimulated samples of 5 patients were markedly lower than those obtained by RIA. The serum T 3 response to TRH was absent or low in 40 out of 53 patients in whom it was evaluated. The administration of T 3 (100 μg/day for 3 days) or dexamethasone (3 mg/day for 5 days) respectively suppressed or reduced both basal and TRH-induced plasma TSH levels. Two patients became hypothyroid shortly after pituitary surgery in spite of basal and TRH-induced plasma TSH levels similar to or higher than those before surgery. Though thyroid atrophy due to chronic understimulation could explain the low T 3 response to TRH in secondary hypothyroidism, it is difficult to reconcile thyroid understimulation with normal or increased plasma TSH unless the immunoreactive material has low biological activity. Present data suggest that several patients with hypothyroidism consequent to hypothalamic-pituitary diseases secrete a material which is immunologically similar to pituitary standard TSH and responds to stimulatory and suppressive agents in a manner similar to normal TSH but has low or absent biological activity. Thus, hypothyroidism due to insufficient TSH stimulation can be termed central hypothyroidism and can be due 1) to pituitary insufficiency (secondary hypothyroidism), 2) to a hypothalamic defect (tertiary hypothyroidism), or 3) to the secretion of biologically inactive TSH.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)989-998
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1979

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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