Fasting-induced changes in the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid axis

Thyroid. 2008 Feb;18(2):123-9. doi: 10.1089/thy.2007.0253.


Fasting induces profound changes in the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis. The alterations observed in humans and rodents are similar in many ways, although they may be more pronounced and more acute in rodents. The molecular mechanisms underlying the resetting of HPT axis regulation in the framework of caloric deprivation are still incompletely understood. Fascinating studies in rats and mice have shown a dramatic downregulation of thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) gene expression in hypophysiotropic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) neurons during fasting. Direct and indirect effects of decreased serum leptin, as well as effects of increased local triiodothyronine (T3) concentrations, in the hypothalamus during food deprivation contribute to the decreased activity of TRH neurons in the PVN. However, the relative contributions of these complex determinants remain to be defined in more detail. Pituitary thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) beta mRNA expression decreases during fasting, and this may be relatively independent of leptin and/or TRH, since leptin administration in this setting does not fully restore pituitary TSH expression, while it does restore TRH expression in the PVN. There may be a role for pituitary peptides, such as neuromedin B, in altered TSH gene expression during fasting. The observed decrease in serum thyroid hormone concentrations results to some extent from diminished thyroidal secretion of thyroid hormones, especially in rodents. Decreased thyroxine (T4) and T3 contribute to the downregulation of T3-responsive genes such as liver D1. The overall result of these complex HPT axis changes in various tissues during fasting is downregulation of the HPT axis, which is assumed to represent an energy-saving mechanism, instrumental in times of food shortage.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Fasting / metabolism*
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism*
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Pituitary Gland / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Thyroid Gland / metabolism*
  • Thyroid Hormones / blood
  • Thyroid Hormones / metabolism*


  • Thyroid Hormones