Introduction: Autoimmunity against the TSH receptor is a key pathogenic element in Graves' disease. The autoimmune aberration may be modified by therapy of the hyperthyroidism.
Objective: To compare the effects of the common types of therapy for Graves' hyperthyroidism on TSH-receptor autoimmunity.
Methods: Patients with newly diagnosed Graves' hyperthyroidism aged 20-55 years were randomized to medical therapy, thyroid surgery, or radioiodine therapy (radioiodine was only given to patients > or = 35 years of age). L-thyroxine (L-T4) was added to therapy as appropriate to keep patients euthyroid. Anti-thyroid drugs were withdrawn after 18 months of therapy. TSH-receptor antibodies (TRAb) in serum were measured before and for 5 years after the initiation of therapy.
Results: Medical therapy (n=48) and surgery (n=47) were followed by a gradual decrease in TRAb in serum, with the disappearance of TRAb in 70-80% of the patients after 18 months. Radioiodine therapy (n=36) led to a 1-year long worsening of autoimmunity against the TSH receptor, and the number of patients entering remission of TSH-receptor autoimmunity with the disappearance of TRAb from serum during the following years was considerably lower than with the other types of therapy.
Conclusion: The majority of patients with Graves' disease gradually enter remission of TSH-receptor autoimmunity during medical or after surgical therapy, with no difference between the types of therapy. Remission of TSH-receptor autoimmunity after radioiodine therapy is less common.