The correlation between the occurrence of Graves' ophthalmopathy and Graves' hyperthyroidism may indicate a role for tri-iodothyronine (T3) hormone in the pathogenesis of Graves' ophthalmopathy. In Graves' ophthalmopathy the recti eye muscles are greatly enlarged whereas skeletal muscles seem unaffected. The distribution of the nuclear T3 receptor was studied in normal human and rat eye and skeletal muscles with immunohistochemistry using mouse (monoclonal) antibodies, and by in-situ hybridization for the detection of mRNA encoding the T3-receptor protein.
Nuclear staining with T3-receptor antibodies was found in all types of tissues studied. Cytoplasmic staining occurred predominantly in the muscle fibres of the orbital layer of the eye muscles and was generally absent or very low in skeletal muscle fibres and hepatocytes. Immunostaining could be inhibited by preabsorbing the antibodies with bacterially expressed T3-receptor protein, implying specificity. The presence of nuclear and cytoplasmic hormonefree T3 receptor sites was indicated after preincubation of sections with T3 hormone: T3-receptor immunostaining decreased and T3-hormone staining increased. In-situ hybridization clearly revealed the presence of α-1 and β-1 forms of the T3-receptor mRNA in liver, skeletal muscles, and orbital and intermediate layers of the eye muscles.
The data demonstrate the presence of T3 hormone-receptor molecules in the extraocular and skeletal muscles. The different susceptibilities of these muscles to Graves' hyperthyroidism may relate to the quantitative differences in T3 hormone-receptor distribution.
Journal of Endocrinology (1992) 133, 67–74