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JF Mutaku, JF Poma, MC Many, JF Denef and MF van Den Hove

Necrosis and apoptosis coexist in the thyroid during goitre development and involution, but little is known about their respective causes. To test the possible role of free radicals, we analysed separately necrosis and apoptosis in male Wistar rats with depressed or normal antioxidant protection. Vitamin E-deficient and -sufficient rats were made goitrous with perchlorate in drinking water; involution was induced by repeated injection of NaI, without or with methimazole. Increase of thyroid malondialdehyde concentration and decrease of glutathione peroxidase activity confirmed the depressed antioxidant protection in vitamin E-deficient rats. Plasma thyroxine and TSH levels were not modified. Necrosis (swollen cells) and apoptosis (pyknotic cells) were quantified on histological sections. In vitamin E-sufficient rats, dead cells were very rare in control thyroids, increased 3-fold in goitre and still further during involution. Necrotic epithelial cells predominated in the goitre and their number declined after iodide supplementation, without or with methimazole. In contrast, the number of apoptotic cells and the caspase-3 activity were increased in goitre and further increased after involution, with two-thirds of pyknotic cells being observed in the interstitium. Apoptosis was prevented by methimazole. Vitamin E deficiency significantly increased total cell death and epithelial cell necrosis and induced the occurrence of much cell debris in the follicular lumen during involution, with no modification of the apoptotic reaction. These results show that the type of cell death is differentially regulated during goitre development and involution: necrosis is related to the oxidative status of the cells, while apoptosis comes with iodine-induced involution.