Thyroid hormones (THs) play an important role in the normal development and physiological functions in fish. Environmental chemicals may adversely affect thyroid function by disturbing gene transcription. Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), a persistent compound, is widely distributed in the aquatic environment and wildlife. In the present study, we investigated whether PFOS could disrupt the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis. Zebrafish embryos were exposed to various concentrations of PFOS (0, 100, 200 and 400 microgL(-1)) and gene expression patterns were examined 15d post-fertilization. The expression of several genes in the HPT system, i.e., corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), sodium/iodide symporter (NIS), thyroglobulin (TG), thyroid peroxidase (TPO), transthyretin (TTR), iodothyronine deiodinases (Dio1 and Dio2) and thyroid receptor (TRalpha and TRbeta), was quantitatively measured using real-time PCR. The gene expression levels of CRF and TSH were significantly up-regulated and down-regulated, respectively, upon exposure to 200 and 400 microg L(-1) PFOS. A significant increase in NIS and Dio1 gene expression was observed at 200 microg L(-1) PFOS exposure, while TG gene expression was down-regulated at 200 and 400 microg L(-1) PFOS exposure. TTR gene expression was down-regulated in a concentration-dependent manner. Up-regulation and down-regulation of TRalpha and TRbeta gene expression, respectively, was observed upon exposure to PFOS. The whole body thyroxine (T(4)) content remained unchanged, whereas triiodothyronine (T(3)) levels were significantly increased, which could directly reflect disrupted thyroid hormone status after PFOS exposure. The overall results indicated that PFOS exposure could alter gene expression in the HPT axis and that mechanisms of disruption of thyroid status by PFOS could occur at several steps in the synthesis, regulation, and action of thyroid hormones.