To evaluate the role of cytokines in the sick euthyroid syndrome, we tried to establish an animal model of non-thyroidal illness in mice by the administration of a sub-lethal dose of bacterial endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide; LPS) which induces a variety of cytokines, including tumour necrosis factor (TNFα), interleukin-1 (IL-1α), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and interferon-γ (IFNγ). When compared with pair-fed controls, a single dose of LPS resulted in (a) systemic illness, (b) induction of TNFα and IL-6 and (c) a decrease of liver 5′-deiodinase mRNA from 4 h onwards followed by a decrease of serum tri-iodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) at 8 h and of serum free T3 (fT3) and free T4 (fT4) at 24 h; serum TSH remained unchanged.
We then studied whether a single dose or a combination of IL-1α, TNFα, IL-6 or IFNγ could induce the sick euthyroid syndrome in mice, again using pair-fed controls. None of the cytokines except IL-1α caused systemic illness, and IL-1α was the only cytokine that decreased liver 5′-deiodinase mRNA transiently. IL-1α, TNFα or IL-6 did not decrease serum T3, T4 and TSH, but administration of IFNγ decreased serum T4, T3 and fT3 in a dose-dependent manner without changes in serum TSH. Administration of all four cytokines together had no synergistic effects; observed changes were of a smaller magnitude than after LPS.
The following conclusions were reached. (1) Administration of LPS in mice is a suitable experimental model for the acute induction of the sick euthyroid syndrome. (2) Acute administration of IL-1α, TNFα or IL-6 in mice does not induce changes in thyroid hormones but IFNγ results in a dose-dependent decrease of serum T4, T3 and fT3 and IL-1α decreases liver 5′-deiodinase mRNA transiently. (3) Combined administration of IL-1α, TNFα, IL-6 and IFNγ had no synergistic effects; observed changes were of a smaller magnitude than after LPS. (4) The LPS-induced sick euthyroid syndrome is currently best explained by a direct thyroidal inhibition due to IFNγ and an extrathyroidal inhibition of liver 5′-deiodinase due to IL-1α, but other still unidentified factors seem to be involved as well.