Background: Increasing evidence suggests that thyroid hormones, L-thyroxine (T(4)) and 3,3',5-triiodo-L-thyronine (T(3)), are modulators of the immune response. In monocytes, macrophages, leukocytes, natural killer cells, and lymphocytes, a wide range of immune functions such as chemotaxis, phagocytosis, generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), and cytokine synthesis and release are altered under hypo- and hyperthyroid conditions.
Summary: Hyperthyroidism decreases the proinflammatory activities of monocytes and macrophages, whereas enhancement of phagocytosis and increased levels of ROS may occur during hypothyroidism. The expression of proinflammatory molecules such as macrophage inflammatory protein-1α and interleukin-1β increases in hypothyroidism. However, in Kupffer cells, proinflammatory activities such as the respiratory burst, nitric oxide synthase activity, and tumor necrosis factor-α expression may result from increased T(3) levels. Thyroid hormones also affect natural killer cell activity and cell-mediated immune responses. Still, for many immune cells no clear correlation has been found so far between abnormally high or low T(3) or T(4) levels and the effects observed on the immune responses.
Conclusions: In this review we outline the contributions of thyroid hormones to different aspects of innate and adaptive immune responses. The relationship between thyroid hormones and immune cells is complex and T(3) and T(4) may modulate immune responses through both genomic and nongenomic mechanisms. Future studies of the molecular signaling mechanisms involved in this cross-talk between thyroid hormones and the immune system may support development of new strategies to improve clinical immune responses.