The thyrotrophic role of human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) in the early stages of twin (versus single) pregnancies

Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1997 Jun;46(6):719-25. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2265.1997.2011011.x.


Objective: Human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) is known to possess thyroid-stimulating activity. The aim of the present study was to assess the role of hCG in stimulating the maternal thyroid gland in the early stages of normal gestation.

Study design: Thirty euthyroid healthy women were investigated prospectively. In each, conception had been assisted by in vitro fertilization techniques, which allowed for the precise determination of gestational age. Women were subdivided into single (n = 17) and twin (n = 13) pregnancies. Serum intact hCG and its free alpha and beta subunits, TSH and free T4 concentrations were measured at 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 19, 22 and 32 weeks.

Results: In twin pregnancies compared with single pregnancies, peak hCG concentrations (9-11 weeks) were significantly higher (mean +/- SE 171,000 +/- 12,500 vs 65,500 +/- 7600 U/l; P < 0.001), and also much more prolonged. Human CG concentrations above 75,000 U/l lasted for less than 1 week in single, compared with up to 6 weeks in twin pregnancies. Free beta-hCG subunit concentrations paralleled those of intact hCG in both groups. The ratios of free beta-hCG subunit/total hCG were similar in single and twin pregnancies, and did not vary with gestation time. Concerning thyroid function, twin pregnancy was more frequently associated with a lowering of TSH, which was also more profound than in single pregnancies. Furthermore, while free T4 levels remained normal in single pregnancies, they were transiently supranormal (up to 52 pmol/l) in four twin pregnancies.

Conclusion: In twin pregnancies the placenta produces larger amounts of hCG for a prolonged period of time than in single pregnancies. Both the amplitude and duration of hCG production (i.e. the global exposure of the thyroid gland to hCG) are responsible for increased thyroidal stimulation, leading more frequently to increased free T4 and suppressed TSH levels. The results emphasize the role of hCG in stimulating maternal thyroid function in the first trimester of pregnancy. Even though the production of a variant hCG molecule with potent thyrotrophic activity cannot be excluded, this hypothesis is not required to explain the data. Clinicians should be aware of the frequent occurrence of significant but transient biochemical hyperthyroidism associated with hCG stimulation in the early stages of gestation, particularly in twin pregnancies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chorionic Gonadotropin / blood
  • Chorionic Gonadotropin / physiology*
  • Chorionic Gonadotropin, beta Subunit, Human / blood
  • Female
  • Fertilization in Vitro
  • Glycoprotein Hormones, alpha Subunit / blood
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First
  • Pregnancy, Multiple / blood*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Thyrotropin / blood
  • Thyrotropin / physiology*
  • Thyroxine / blood
  • Twins*


  • Chorionic Gonadotropin
  • Chorionic Gonadotropin, beta Subunit, Human
  • Glycoprotein Hormones, alpha Subunit
  • Thyrotropin
  • Thyroxine