Maternal-fetal transfer of thyroxine in congenital hypothyroidism due to a total organification defect or thyroid agenesis

N Engl J Med. 1989 Jul 6;321(1):13-6. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198907063210103.


The fact that neonates who subsequently have severe hypothyroidism have no evidence of the condition at birth suggests the possibility of the placental transfer of thyroid hormones. Recent studies have demonstrated the existence of such transfer in hypothyroid rats. To determine whether there is a transfer of thyroxine (T4) from mother to fetus, we studied 25 neonates born with a complete inability to iodinate thyroid proteins and therefore to synthesize T4. This total organification defect is an autosomal recessive disorder with an incidence of approximately 1 in 60,000 neonates in the Netherlands. In the cord serum of affected neonates, T4 levels ranged from 35 to 70 nmol per liter. Since these patients were unable to produce any T4, the T4 must have originated in their mothers. The estimated biologic half-life of serum T4 was 3.6 days (95 percent confidence interval, 2.7 to 5.3). In 15 neonates with thyroid agenesis, the serum levels and the disappearance kinetics of T4 were the same as those in the neonates with a total organification defect, suggesting that in these infants, the T4 also had a maternal origin. We conclude that in infants with severe congenital hypothyroidism, substantial amounts of T4 are transferred from mother to fetus during late gestation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Congenital Hypothyroidism*
  • Female
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Hypothyroidism / blood
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange*
  • Pregnancy
  • Thyroid Gland / abnormalities*
  • Thyroxine / biosynthesis
  • Thyroxine / blood*


  • Thyroxine