Comprehensive Metabolic Profiling Reveals a Lipid-Rich Fingerprint of Free Thyroxine Far Beyond Classic Parameters

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2018 May 1;103(5):2050-2060. doi: 10.1210/jc.2018-00183.


Objective: Thyroid hormones are ubiquitously involved in human metabolism. However, the precise molecular patterns associated with alterations in thyroid hormones levels remain to be explored in detail. A number of recent studies took great advantage of metabolomics profiling to outline the metabolic actions of thyroid hormones in humans.

Methods: Among 952 participants in the Study of Health in Pomerania, data on serum free thyroxine (FT4) and thyrotropin and comprehensive nontargeted metabolomics data from plasma and urine samples were available. Linear regression analyses were performed to assess the association between FT4 or thyrotropin and metabolite levels.

Results and conclusion: After accounting for major confounders, 106 of 613 plasma metabolites were significantly associated with FT4. The associations in urine were minor (12 of 587). Most of the plasma metabolites consisted of lipid species, and subsequent analysis of highly resolved lipoprotein subclasses measured by proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy revealed a consistent decrease in several of these species (e.g., phospholipids) and large low-density lipoprotein and small high-density lipoprotein particles. The latter was unique to men. Several polyunsaturated and saturated fatty acids displayed an association with FT4 in women only. A random forest-based variable selection approach using phenotypic characteristics revealed higher alcohol intake in men and an adverse thyroid state and menopause in women as the putative mediating factors. In general, our observations have confirmed the lipolytic and lipogenic effect of thyroid hormones even in the physiological range and revealed different phenotypic characteristics (e.g., lifestyle differences) as possible confounders for sex-specific findings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Chemical Analysis
  • Dyslipidemias / blood
  • Dyslipidemias / epidemiology
  • Dyslipidemias / urine
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism / physiology
  • Lipids / blood*
  • Lipids / urine*
  • Male
  • Metabolomics* / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Thyroid Diseases / blood
  • Thyroid Diseases / epidemiology
  • Thyroid Diseases / urine
  • Thyroid Function Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Thyrotropin / blood
  • Thyrotropin / urine
  • Thyroxine / blood*
  • Thyroxine / urine*
  • Triiodothyronine / blood
  • Triiodothyronine / urine
  • Urinalysis


  • Lipids
  • Triiodothyronine
  • Thyrotropin
  • Thyroxine