Several mechanisms are involved in the maintenance of normal thyroid hormone secretion, even when iodine intake exceeds physiologic needs by a factor of 100. The sodium-iodide symporter system contributes most to this stability. Faced with an iodine excess, it throttles the transport of iodide into the thyroid cells, the rate-limiting step of hormone synthesis. Even before the iodine symporter reacts, a sudden iodine overload paradoxically blocks the second step of hormone synthesis, the organification of iodide. This so-called Wolff-Chaikoff effect requires a high (>or=10(-3) molar) intracellular concentration of iodide. The block does not last long, because after a while the sodium-iodide symporter shuts down; this allows intracellular iodide to drop below 10(-3) molar and the near-normal secretion to resume. In some susceptible individuals (e.g., after radio-iodine treatment of Graves' disease or in autoimmune thyroiditis), the sodium-iodide symporter fails to shut down, the intracellular concentration of iodide remains high and chronic hypothyroidism ensues. To complicate matters, iodine excess may also cause hyperthyroidism. The current explanation is that this happens in persons with goitres, for example, after long-standing iodine deficiency. These goitres may contain nodules carrying a somatic mutation that confers a 'constitutive' activation of the TSH receptor. Being no more under pituitary control, these nodules overproduce thyroid hormone and cause iodine-induced hyperthyroidism, when they are presented with sufficient iodine. These autonomous nodules gradually disappear from the population after iodine deficiency has been properly corrected. More recent studies suggest that chronic high iodine intake furthers classical thyroid autoimmunity (hypothyroidism and thyroiditis) and that iodine-induced hyperthyroidism may also have an autoimmune pathogenesis.
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