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StatPearls . Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-.


Physiology, Thyroid Stimulating Hormone

Yasaman Pirahanchi; Fadi Toro; Ishwarlal Jialal.

Author Information


Thyroid-stimulating hormone, additionally known together TSH, is a glycoprotein hormone produced by the anterior pituitary. It is the major stimulus because that thyroid hormone production by the thyroid gland. It additionally exerts growth effects on thyroid follicular cells bring about enlargement of the thyroid. The hypothalamic-pituitary axis regulates TSH release. Special, neurons in the hypothalamus relax TRH, or thyroid-releasing hormone, i m sorry stimulates thyrotrophs that the anterior pituitary to secrete TSH. TSH, in turn, stimulates thyroid follicular cells to release thyroid hormones in the form of T3 or T4. Triiodothyronine, or T3, is the active form of thyroid hormone. Though it represents just 20% the the exit hormone, the majority of T3 comes from the peripheral switch of T4 to T3. Tetraiodothyronine, likewise known as thyroxine or T4, constitutes more than 80% the the secreted hormone. As soon as released into the circulation, it forms T3 v the process of de-iodination. T4 and also T3 have the right to then exert an unfavorable feedback on the anterior pituitary through high levels of T3/T4 decreasing TSH secretion and also low levels of T3/T4 increasing TSH release. In this review, we discuss the physiology, biochemistry, and clinical relationship of TSH.<1>

Issues the Concern

Primary thyroid an illness refers come problems arising from the thyroid gland itself. In contrast, an additional thyroid disease refers to main problems developing from the anterior pituitary that indirectly affects thyroid function. A thyroid problem can exist in the form of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism occurs as soon as there is excessive thyroid hormone synthesis or release. Hypothyroidism, ~ above the various other hand, happens early out to inadequate thyroid hormone production.

In major hyperthyroidism, the thyroid produces big amounts that T3 and T4, which, through an adverse feedback inhibition, suppress TSH secretion from the anterior pituitary. In major hypothyroidism, the thyroid to produce insufficient quantities of T3 and also T4, which leads to loss of an adverse feedback inhibition, and increased production of TSH native the anterior pituitary. In secondary hyperthyroidism, the anterior pituitary produces big amounts the TSH, which, in turn, stimulate the thyroid follicular cell to secrete thyroid hormone in too much amounts. On the various other hand, if the anterior pituitary to be to create low level of TSH, lack of stimulation the thyroid follicular cells reasons T3 and also T4 levels to walk down, thus secondary hypothyroidism.

TSH is the first-line screening test because that the majority of patients through a doubt thyroid problem. Together, v T3 and T4, it help assess even if it is thyroid disease is primary or secondary. Thyroid role tests measure the level of T3, T4, and TSH in the blood. Lock are critical not just for diagnosing thyroid difficulties but also in differentiating in between a primary and also a secondary cause that thyroid disease. A change in TSH that parallels T3 and T4 alters indicates a secondary problem originating in the anterior pituitary. In contrast, a TSH change that adheres to the the contrary direction that T3 and T4 says a difficulty in the thyroid gland itself.<2><3><4>


TSH is a peptide hormone developed by the anterior pituitary. It consists of 2 chains: an alpha chain and a beta chain. It has actually a molecule mass of approximately 28,000 Da. The composition is very similar to other glycoprotein hormone made by the anterior pituitary. Luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and human reasonable gonadotropin (HCG) really much resemble TSH. Specifically, lock all have the very same alpha subunit as TSH, but different beta chains the confer biological specificity. Due to the fact that TSH, LH, FSH, and HCG share the very same alpha subunit, they all role through the same cyclic adenin monophosphate (cAMP) 2nd messenger system. The cAMP second messenger system requires adenine monophosphate (AMP) conversion come cAMP. In enhancement to cAMP, TSH likewise activates the IP3 signaling cascade. The IP3 2nd messenger system involves calcium relax from the sarcoplasmic reticulum. Both cAMP and also IP3/Ca2+ cascades bring about downstream physiological results that enhance thyroid hormone synthesis and also thyroid gland growth.

Organ solution Involved

The main target the TSH is the thyroid gland. Specifics TSH modulates the release of T3 and also T4 indigenous thyroid follicular cells. Around 80% the the thyroid hormone is released as T4. T4 is de-iodinated to T3, i beg your pardon is a an ext potent thyroid hormone. Also though only around 20% that T3 originates native the thyroid gland, 80% comes from peripheral switch via a deiodinase. Much more than 99% of thyroid hormones tie to thyroid-binding globulin, prealbumin, and albumin, and only 1% circulates freely in the blood. Once T3 binding to that is receptor in the nucleus, the activates DNA transcription, followed by mRNA translation, and brand-new protein synthesis. These new proteins influence many organ systems, cultivating growth as fine as bone and main nervous mechanism (CNS) maturation. T3 and also T4 act on almost all cells in the body to rise the basal metabolic rate. Specifics they boost the synthesis of Na?/K?-ATPase, top to rise in oxygen consumption and also heat production. They likewise act on B1 receptor in the love to rise heart rate and contractility through enhancing the variety of beta-1 receptor on the myocardium such the the myocardium is much more sensitive come stimulation by the sympathetic worried system. Thyroid hormones likewise activate metabolism, with rise in glucose absorption, glycogenolysis, gluconeogenesis, lipolysis, and protein synthesis and also degradation (net catabolic).<5>


TSH binding to and also activates the TSH receptor (TSHR), i beg your pardon is a G-protein combination receptor (GPCR) ~ above the basolateral surface ar of thyroid follicular cells. TSHR is combination to both Gs and also Gq G-proteins, activating both the cAMP pathway (via Gsa) and also the phosphoinositol/calcium (IP/Ca2+; via Gq) second messenger signaling cascades. The Gs pathway activates iodide uptake, thyroid hormone secretion, and gland growth and also differentiation. The Gq pathway is rate-limiting because that hormone synthesis by stimulating iodide organification. A acquire in role mutation of the TSH receptor results in hyperthyroidism, if a lose in duty mutation results in hypothyroidism.

Understanding the duty of TSH in stimulating T3 and also T4 cheap requires knowledge of the thyroid hormone synthesis pathway. The 2 main materials of T3 and T4 space iodine and tyrosine. Iodine (I2) forms through oxidation the iodide (I-) after thyroid follicular cells actively take increase iodide (I-) from the bloodstream versus its concentration gradient. Tyrosine, ~ above the various other hand, originates from thyroglobulin, a tyrosine-rich protein synthesized through thyroid follicular cells. Following iodide uptake and also oxidation, iodine binding tyrosine residual water on thyroglobulin to type monoiodotyrosine (MIT) and also diiodotyrosine (DIT). Triiodothyronine, or T3, creates when an MIT mixes up through DIT. Likewise, the coupling of two DITs create tetraiodothyronine (T4), or thyroxine. The procedure of iodide oxidation, thyroglobulin iodination, and MIT and DIT coupling is catalytic analysis by one enzyme called, thyroperoxidase. TSH stimulates thyroid hormone secretion through improving iodide uptake, thyroglobulin synthesis, and thyroperoxidase activity. Additionally, TSH likewise increases blood flow to the thyroid gland and also stimulates hypertrophy and hyperplasia that thyroid follicular cell to exert growth impacts on the thyroid gland.<6>


The hypothalamic-pituitary axis regulates TSH release through hypothalamic neurons the secrete thyroid releasing hormone (TRH), a hormone that stimulates thyrotrophs in the anterior pituitary to secrete TSH. TSH, in turn, stimulates thyroid follicular cells to release thyroxine or T4 (80%), and also triiodothyronine or T3 (20%). Somatostatin, on the other hand, is another hormone produced by the hypothalamus that inhibits the relax of TSH native the anterior pituitary. Once T4 enters the circulation, it gets converted to T3 through the process of deiodination. T4 and also T3 deserve to then exert an unfavorable feedback top top TSH levels (high level of T3/T4 diminish TSH release from the anterior pituitary, while low levels that T3/T4 rise TSH release). T3 is the predominant inhibitor of TSH secretion. Due to the fact that TSH secretion is so perceptible to minor alters in totally free T4 with this negative feedback loop, abnormal TSH levels are detected earlier than those of complimentary T4 in hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. There is a log-linear relationship in between T3/T4 and also TSH, and minor changes in T3/T4 lead to significant changes in TSH.

Related Testing

TSH is the first-line screening test because that both hypothyroidism and also hyperthyroidism because changes in TSH occur earlier that alters in T3/T4. If values are external the range of 0.4 to 4.5 milliunits every liter (mU/L), measure T3 and T4 have to follow. However, TSH is constantly the best an initial test because it is more reputable than plasma T3/T4 levels, which have tendency to fluctuate. In main hypothyroidism, TSH levels space elevated as result of the ns of negative inhibition ~ above the anterior pituitary. In contrast, in primary hyperthyroidism, TSH levels go down.

Another appropriate test when it concerns thyroid condition is thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI). The test is diagnostic because that a problem called Grave"s disease. As debated later, Grave"s an illness is an autoimmune an illness characterized through the visibility of autoantibodies in the blood the exert TSH-like effects. The antibodies wake up TSHR ~ above thyroid follicular cells bring about uncontrolled thyroid hormone synthesis and also release. The check detects the visibility of thyroid-stimulating antibodies (TSIs) in the blood.<7>



Hyperthyroidism is a condition defined by too much secretion of thyroid hormones. A variety of medical problems lead come hyperthyroidism, including Graves" disease, thyroid neoplasm, thyroid adenomas, overfill TSH secretion, or exogenous T3 or T4 administration. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism incorporate increased basal metabolic rate, weight loss, raised appetite, sweating, tremors, warm sensitivity, irritability, diarrhea, and also insomnia. In main hyperthyroidism, as in the situation of a thyroid adenoma, TSH levels tend to decrease early to an unfavorable feedback inhibition exerted on the anterior pituitary by T3 and also T4. In second hyperthyroidism, as in the situation of a TSH or TRH secreting tumor, both TSH and also T3/T4 levels increase. <8><9>


Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland falls short to create thyroid hormone in enough amounts. The many common reason of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto thyroiditis, which is a problem caused through autoantibodies that attack thyroid follicular cells leading to lessened thyroid hormone synthesis. Other common reasons of hypothyroidism encompass radiation therapy, thyroid surgery, overtreatment with anti-thyroid medications, congenital hypothyroidism, iodine deficiency, or pituitary tumors. Symptom of hypothyroidism include decreased basal metabolic rate, weight gain despite the reduced appetite, cold sensitivity, lessened cardiac output, hypoventilation, lethargy and mental slowness, drooping eyelids, myxedema, development retardation, mental retardation in perinatal patients, and goiter. In major hypothyroidism, together in the case of Hashimoto thyroiditis, TSH levels increase because of loss of an unfavorable feedback inhibition. In second hypothyroidism, as in the situation of a light pituitary gland tumor, TSH levels walk down. Treatment for hypothyroidism includes thyroid hormone instead of therapy.<10><11><12>

TSH and Estrogen

Thyroxine-binding globulin (TBG) binds most T3/T4 in the blood. A small section of thyroid hormones circulate openly in the blood and constitute the physiologically energetic form. Estrogen rises the synthesis and decreases the clearance of thyroxine-binding globulin (TBG). Therefore, overabundance estrogen states, together as pregnancy or the usage of dental contraceptives, reason TBG level to increase. An increase in binding task (increased TBG) at first lowers the concentration that the cost-free hormone. However, an undamaged hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis conveniently normalizes totally free hormone levels and also restores homeostasis. As such, TSH and complimentary T3/T4 levels stay normal while total T3/T4 increases. In contrast, patients with pre-existing hypothyroidism depend on exogenous thyroid hormone (levothyroxine) to preserve adequate complimentary T3/T4 levels. Together such, they fail come respond as necessary to a autumn in free thyroid hormone levels. Therefore, an increase in TBG in those patients would reason a decrease in cost-free T3/T4. The lose of an unfavorable feedback inhibition top top the pituitary reasons TSH level to walk up. Those patients require boost in levothyroxine dosage to keep euthyroidism. 

Clinical Significance

Grave"s Disease

Grave"s condition is an autoimmune problem that most typically affects young females under the age of forty. The hallmark around the condition is the visibility of autoantibodies that exert TSH-like effects, referred to as thyroid-stimulating antitoxin (TSIs). TSIs stimulate TSH receptors on thyroid follicular cells resulting in both hyperthyroidism and also thyroid gland enlargement, thus a goiter. As T3/T4 levels increase, TSH goes down through negative feedback inhibition. In enhancement to the classic signs and also symptoms of hyperthyroidism, Grave"s condition also reasons ophthalmopathy, which manifests together exophthalmos (bulging eyes), eye irritation, dual vision, and also possibly vision loss. Grave"s ophthalmopathy most likely happens due to TSIs binding to receptors on the soft tissues and muscles behind the eyes. This initiates an inflammatory cascade that causes ocular symptom to occur.<8>

TSH-secreting Pituitary Adenoma

A functioning pituitary adenoma is a pituitary tumor that secretes active hormones. It commonly arises native prolactin-secreting cells, likewise known together lactotrophs. That can additionally arise from TSH-secreting thyrotrophs resulting in a climb in TSH levels. TSH-secreting adenomas are regularly macroadenomas that no only create excessive quantities of TSH but additionally create mass-effects on nearby structures. Patients normally complain the compressive symptom (headaches, vision problems) and also symptoms the hyperthyroidism. High TSH reasons the thyroid gland to enlarge, and patients typically build a goiter.

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Non-functioning Pituitary Adenoma

A non-functioning pituitary adenoma generally arises indigenous gonadotrophs (gonadotropin-secreting cells). Healthy gonadotrophs secrete active LH and also FSH, consists of both alpha and beta-subunits. In contrast, a non-functioning pituitary adenoma secretes one inactive kind of gonadotropins that has actually the alpha chain but lacks the active beta-subunit. Symptoms usually carry out not take place until the tumor becomes huge enough to compress adjacent structures. Usual compressive symptoms incorporate headaches and also vision problems. Additionally, the large mass could compress the nearby pituitary cells leading to decreased TSH as well as other pituitary hormones. A drop in TSH levels can lead come hypothyroidism if the tumor is not adequately managed.<14>