Fetal thyroid function

Thyroid. 1992 Fall;2(3):207-17. doi: 10.1089/thy.1992.2.207.


Cordocentesis has permitted the study of fetal thyroid function in utero. In normal fetuses, fetal TSH, TBG, and thyroid hormone concentrations increase progressively throughout intrauterine life. Fetal TSH concentrations are always high compared to nonpregnant adult values. TBG concentrations reach adult levels at term. TT4 and FT4 concentrations reach adult levels at approximately 36 weeks gestation, but TT3 and FT3 are always below adult concentrations. There are no significant associations between fetal and maternal concentrations of TSH, TBG, or thyroid hormones. The maternal administration of TRH from at least 25 weeks gestation stimulates the fetal pituitary gland to produce TSH. The response is rapid, unrelated to gestational age, and much greater than that of the mother. These findings suggest that in intrauterine life there is independent and autonomous maturation of the pituitary, thyroid, and liver. The fetal pituitary is able to respond to the maternal administration of TRH and appears to be more sensitive than in the adult. In small-for-gestational-age fetuses, the concentrations of TSH are higher and the concentrations of TT4 and FT4 are lower than in appropriately grown fetuses. The degrees of elevation of TSH and fall in thyroid hormones are significantly related to the degree of fetal hypoxemia and acidemia, respectively. Although the low concentrations of thyroid hormones may have some beneficial effects by reducing oxygen requirements, they may adversely affect brain development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cordocentesis
  • Fetal Blood / chemistry*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Newborn / physiopathology
  • Thyroglobulin / metabolism
  • Thyroid Gland / embryology*
  • Thyroid Hormones / blood
  • Thyrotropin / physiology
  • Thyrotropin-Releasing Hormone / physiology


  • Thyroid Hormones
  • Thyrotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Thyrotropin
  • Thyroglobulin