Background: Congenital hypothyroidism (CH) is a common and preventable cause of mental retardation, which is detected in many neonatal screening programs. Upon suspicion of CH, plasma free thyroxine (fT4) and thyrotropin (TSH) concentrations are measured. CH can be of thyroidal or central origin (CH-T and CH-C, respectively). While CH-T diagnosis is based on an elevated TSH with a low fT4, CH-C diagnosis is based on a low fT4 without a clearly elevated TSH. Currently, reliable neonatal reference intervals (RIs) for plasma fT4 and TSH are lacking. Age-specific RIs would greatly improve the diagnostic process for CH, especially for CH-C. Our aim was to establish neonatal RIs for plasma fT4 and TSH in term neonates at day 3-7 (t = 1) and day 13-15 (t = 2). The study was particularly designed to provide a reliable fT4 lower limit of the RI to facilitate the diagnosis of CH-C. In the Netherlands, neonates are screened at day 3-7 of life. After a screening result suggestive for CH-C, pediatric consultation takes place on average at day 14. Thus, the time points were chosen accordingly. Methods: Venous blood was collected from 120 healthy neonates at each time point (94 participants provided blood samples at two time points; 52 participants provided a sample at t = 1 or t = 2). fT4 and TSH were measured using an immunoassay (Cobas; Roche Diagnostics). RIs were calculated using the 95% confidence interval for normally distributed data and the nonparametric percentile method if data were not normally distributed. Results: From 146 participants (49% female), ≥1 measurement was available. Ninety-five percent RIs for fT4 were 20.5-37.1 pmol/L (day 3-7) and 15.3-26.5 pmol/L (day 13-15). Ninety-five percent RIs for TSH were 1.0-8.4 mU/L (day 3-7) and 1.4-8.6 mU/L (day 13-15). Conclusions: Our results indicate an fT4 lower limit of the RI of 20.5 pmol/L at day 3-7 and 15.3 pmol/L at day 13-15. These lower limits are considerably higher than this assay's lower limit of the adult RI for fT4. In case CH is suspected, we recommend measuring fT4 and TSH using an assay with an established neonatal RI, taking into account the child's age in days.
Keywords: central hypothyroidism; congenital hypothyroidism; endocrinology-pediatric; hypothalamic pituitary thyroid physiology; pediatrics.