OpenStax Biology 2e
The basal metabolic rate, which is the amount of calories required by the body at rest, is determined by two hormones produced by the thyroid gland: thyroxine, also known as tetraiodothyronine or T4, and triiodothyronine, also known as T3. These hormones affect nearly every cell in the body except for the adult brain, uterus, testes, blood cells, and spleen. They are transported across the plasma membrane of target cells and bind to receptors on the mitochondria resulting in increased ATP production. In the nucleus, T3 and T4 activate genes involved in energy production and glucose oxidation. This results in increased rates of metabolism and body heat production, which is known as the hormone’s calorigenic effect.
T3 and T4 release from the thyroid gland is stimulated by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced by the anterior pituitary. TSH binding at the receptors of the follicle of the thyroid triggers the production of T3 and T4 from a glycoprotein called thyroglobulin. Thyroglobulin is present in the follicles of the thyroid, and is converted into thyroid hormones with the addition of iodine. Iodine is formed from iodide ions that are actively transported into the thyroid follicle from the bloodstream. A peroxidase enzyme then attaches the iodine to the tyrosine amino acid found in thyroglobulin. T3 has three iodine ions attached, while T4 has four iodine ions attached. T3 and T4 are then released into the bloodstream, with T4 being released in much greater amounts than T3. As T3 is more active than T4 and is responsible for most of the effects of thyroid hormones, tissues of the body convert T4 to T3 by the removal of an iodine ion. Most of the released T3 and T4 becomes attached to transport proteins in the bloodstream and is unable to cross the plasma membrane of cells. These protein-bound molecules are only released when blood levels of the unattached hormone begin to decline. In this way, a week’s worth of reserve hormone is maintained in the blood. Increased T3 and T4 levels in the blood inhibit the release of TSH, which results in lower T3 and T4 release from the thyroid.
The follicular cells of the thyroid require iodides (anions of iodine) in order to synthesize T3 and T4. Iodides obtained from the diet are actively transported into follicle cells resulting in a concentration that is approximately 30 times higher than in blood. The typical diet in North America provides more iodine than required due to the addition of iodide to table salt. Inadequate iodine intake, which occurs in many developing countries, results in an inability to synthesize T3 and T4 hormones. The thyroid gland enlarges in a condition called goiter, which is caused by overproduction of TSH without the formation of thyroid hormone. Thyroglobulin is contained in a fluid called colloid, and TSH stimulation results in higher levels of colloid accumulation in the thyroid. In the absence of iodine, this is not converted to thyroid hormone, and colloid begins to accumulate more and more in the thyroid gland, leading to goiter.
Disorders can arise from both the underproduction and overproduction of thyroid hormones. Hypothyroidism, underproduction of the thyroid hormones, can cause a low metabolic rate leading to weight gain, sensitivity to cold, and reduced mental activity, among other symptoms. In children, hypothyroidism can cause cretinism, which can lead to mental retardation and growth defects. Hyperthyroidism, the overproduction of thyroid hormones, can lead to an increased metabolic rate and its effects: weight loss, excess heat production, sweating, and an increased heart rate. Graves’ disease is one example of a hyperthyroid condition.
Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/biology-2e