Dual control of pituitary thyroid stimulating hormone secretion by thyroxine and triiodothyronine in athyreotic patients

Ther Adv Endocrinol Metab. 2017 Jun;8(6):83-95. doi: 10.1177/2042018817716401. Epub 2017 Jul 13.


Background: Patient responses to levothyroxine (LT4) monotherapy vary considerably. We sought to differentiate contributions of FT4 and FT3 in controlling pituitary thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) secretion.

Methods: We retrospectively assessed the relationships between TSH and thyroid hormones in 319 patients with thyroid carcinoma through 2914 visits on various LT4 doses during follow-up for 5.5 years (median, IQR 4.2, 6.9). We also associated patient complaints with the relationships.

Results: Under varying dose requirements (median 1.84 µg/kg, IQR 1.62, 2.11), patients reached TSH targets below 0.4, 0.1 or 0.01 mIU/l at 73%, 54% and 27% of visits. While intercept, slope and fit of linearity of the relationships between lnTSH and FT4/FT3 varied between individuals, gender, age, LT4 dose and deiodinase activity influenced the relationships in the cohort (all p < 0.001). Deiodinase activity impaired by LT4 dose significantly affected the lnTSH-FT4 relationship. Dose increase and reduced conversion efficiency displaced FT3-TSH equilibria. In LT4-treated patients, FT4 and FT3 contributed on average 52% versus 38%, and by interaction 10% towards TSH suppression. Symptomatic presentations (11%) accompanied reduced FT3 concentrations (-0.23 pmol/l, p = 0.001) adjusted for gender, age and BMI, their relationships being shifted towards higher TSH values at comparable FT3/FT4 levels.

Conclusions: Variation in deiodinase activity and resulting FT3 levels shape the TSH-FT4 relationship in LT4-treated athyreotic patients, suggesting cascade control of pituitary TSH production by the two hormones. Consequently, measurement of FT3 and calculation of conversion efficiency may identify patients with impaired biochemistry and a resulting lack of symptomatic control.

Keywords: TSH feedback control; deiodinase; levothyroxine treatment; set point; thyroid homeostasis; triiodothyronine.