Thyroid Allostasis-Adaptive Responses of Thyrotropic Feedback Control to Conditions of Strain, Stress, and Developmental Programming

Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2017 Jul 20:8:163. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2017.00163. eCollection 2017.


The hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid feedback control is a dynamic, adaptive system. In situations of illness and deprivation of energy representing type 1 allostasis, the stress response operates to alter both its set point and peripheral transfer parameters. In contrast, type 2 allostatic load, typically effective in psychosocial stress, pregnancy, metabolic syndrome, and adaptation to cold, produces a nearly opposite phenotype of predictive plasticity. The non-thyroidal illness syndrome (NTIS) or thyroid allostasis in critical illness, tumors, uremia, and starvation (TACITUS), commonly observed in hospitalized patients, displays a historically well-studied pattern of allostatic thyroid response. This is characterized by decreased total and free thyroid hormone concentrations and varying levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) ranging from decreased (in severe cases) to normal or even elevated (mainly in the recovery phase) TSH concentrations. An acute versus chronic stage (wasting syndrome) of TACITUS can be discerned. The two types differ in molecular mechanisms and prognosis. The acute adaptation of thyroid hormone metabolism to critical illness may prove beneficial to the organism, whereas the far more complex molecular alterations associated with chronic illness frequently lead to allostatic overload. The latter is associated with poor outcome, independently of the underlying disease. Adaptive responses of thyroid homeostasis extend to alterations in thyroid hormone concentrations during fetal life, periods of weight gain or loss, thermoregulation, physical exercise, and psychiatric diseases. The various forms of thyroid allostasis pose serious problems in differential diagnosis of thyroid disease. This review article provides an overview of physiological mechanisms as well as major diagnostic and therapeutic implications of thyroid allostasis under a variety of developmental and straining conditions.

Keywords: TACITUS syndrome; hypothalamus–pituitary–thyroid feedback control; non-thyroidal illness syndrome; thyroid allostasis; thyroid hormone metabolism.

Publication types

  • Review