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Maria H Warner and Geoffrey J Beckett

The mechanisms behind the changes in serum triiodothyronine (T3), thyroxine (T4) and TSH that occur in the non-thyroidal illness syndrome (NTIS) are becoming clearer. Induction of a central hypothyroidism occurs due to a diminution in hypothalamic thyrotropin-releasing hormone. This can be signalled by a decrease in leptin caused by malnutrition and possibly a localised increase in hypothalamic T3 catalyzed by altered expression of hypothalamic iodothyronine deiodinases D2 and D3. Data from D1 and D2 knockout mice suggest that these enzymes may have little contribution to the low serum T3 found in acute illness. The decline in serum T3 and T4 in models of acute illness precedes the fall in hepatic D1, suggesting that much of the initial fall in these hormones may be attributable to an acute phase response giving rise to a reduction in the thyroid hormone binding capacity of plasma. When measured by reliable methods, changes in serum free T4 and free T3 are modest in comparison to the fall seen in total thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone transporter expression is up-regulated in many models of the NTIS, thus if diminished tissue uptake of hormone occurs in vivo, it is likely to be the result of impaired transporter function caused by diminished intracellular ATP or plasma inhibitors of transporter action. In man, chronic illness leads to an upregulation of thyroid hormone receptor (THR) expression at least in liver and renal failure. In contrast, human and animal models of sepsis and trauma indicate that expression of THRs and their coactivators are decreased in acute illness.

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Geoffrey J Beckett and John R Arthur

The trace element selenium (Se) is capable of exerting multiple actions on endocrine systems by modifying the expression of at least 30 selenoproteins, many of which have clearly defined functions. Well-characterized selenoenzymes are the families of glutathione peroxidases (GPXs), thioredoxin reductases (TRs) and iodothyronine deiodinases (Ds). These selenoenzymes are capable of modifying cell function by acting as antioxidants and modifying redox status and thyroid hormone metabolism. Se is also involved in cell growth, apoptosis and modifying the action of cell signalling systems and transcription factors. During thyroid hormone synthesis GPX1, GPX3 and TR1 are up-regulated, providing the thyrocytes with considerable protection from peroxidative damage. Thyroidal D1 in rats and both D1 and D2 in humans are also up-regulated to increase the production of bioactive 3,5,3′-tri-iodothyronine (T3). In the basal state, GPX3 is secreted into the follicular lumen where it may down-regulate thyroid hormone synthesis by decreasing hydrogen peroxide concentrations. The deiodinases are present in most tissues and provide a mechanism whereby individual tissues may control their exposure to T3. Se is also able to modify the immune response in patients with autoimmune thyroiditis. Low sperm production and poor sperm quality are consistent features of Se-deficient animals. The pivotal link between Se, sperm quality and male fertility is GPX4 since the enzyme is essential to allow the production of the correct architecture of the midpiece of spermatozoa. Se also has insulin-mimetic properties, an effect that is probably brought about by stimulating the tyrosine kinases involved in the insulin signalling cascade. Furthermore, in the diabetic rat, Se not only restores glycaemic control but it also prevents or alleviates the adverse effects that diabetes has on cardiac, renal and platelet function.