Cutting edge: retrobulbar inflammation, adipogenesis, and acute orbital congestion in a preclinical female mouse model of Graves' orbitopathy induced by thyrotropin receptor plasmid-in vivo electroporation

Endocrinology. 2013 Sep;154(9):3008-15. doi: 10.1210/en.2013-1576. Epub 2013 Jul 30.


Graves' orbitopathy (GO) is a complication in Graves' disease (GD) but mechanistic insights into pathogenesis remain unresolved, hampered by lack of animal model. The TSH receptor (TSHR) and perhaps IGF-1 receptor (IGF-1R) are considered relevant antigens. We show that genetic immunization of human TSHR (hTSHR) A-subunit plasmid leads to extensive remodeling of orbital tissue, recapitulating GO. Female BALB/c mice immunized with hTSHR A-subunit or control plasmids by in vivo muscle electroporation were evaluated for orbital remodeling by histopathology and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Antibodies to TSHR and IGF-1R were present in animals challenged with hTSHR A-subunit plasmid, with predominantly TSH blocking antibodies and were profoundly hypothyroid. Orbital pathology was characterized by interstitial inflammation of extraocular muscles with CD3+ T cells, F4/80+ macrophages, and mast cells, accompanied by glycosaminoglycan deposition with resultant separation of individual muscle fibers. Some animals showed heterogeneity in orbital pathology with 1) large infiltrate surrounding the optic nerve or 2) extensive adipogenesis with expansion of retrobulbar adipose tissue. A striking finding that underpins the new model were the in vivo MRI scans of mouse orbital region that provided clear and quantifiable evidence of orbital muscle hypertrophy with protrusion (proptosis) of the eye. Additionally, eyelid manifestations of chemosis, including dilated and congested orbital blood vessels, were visually apparent. Immunization with control plasmids failed to show any orbital pathology. Overall, these findings support TSHR as the pathogenic antigen in GO. Development of a new preclinical model will facilitate molecular investigations on GO and evaluation of new therapeutic interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipogenesis*
  • Adiposity
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Electroporation
  • Exophthalmos / etiology
  • Eye / immunology*
  • Eye / metabolism
  • Eye / pathology
  • Female
  • Glycosaminoglycans / metabolism
  • Graves Ophthalmopathy / immunology
  • Graves Ophthalmopathy / metabolism
  • Graves Ophthalmopathy / pathology
  • Graves Ophthalmopathy / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Hyperemia / etiology*
  • Hypothyroidism / etiology
  • Immunoglobulins, Thyroid-Stimulating / analysis
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Oculomotor Muscles / immunology*
  • Oculomotor Muscles / metabolism
  • Oculomotor Muscles / pathology
  • Optic Neuritis / etiology*
  • Orbit
  • Protein Subunits / genetics
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism
  • Receptors, Thyrotropin / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, Thyrotropin / genetics
  • Receptors, Thyrotropin / metabolism
  • Transfection


  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Immunoglobulins, Thyroid-Stimulating
  • Protein Subunits
  • Receptors, Thyrotropin
  • thyrotropin-binding inhibitory immunoglobulin