Thyroid autoimmune reactions start with an accumulation of mainly dendritic cells in the thyroid. There is increasing evidence that, apart from being antigen-presenting cells, they are also able to control the growth and hormone synthesis of neighbouring endocrine cells. The questions thus arise: are dendritic cells accumulating in the pre-autoimmune thyroid in response to an altered proliferative or metabolic activity of thyrocytes, and do cytokines, monocyte chemoattractants, or both, have a role in their accumulation? We have investigated these questions in thyrocytes of the biobreeding diabetes-prone (BB-DP) rat in relation to the start of the intrathyroid accumulation of dendritic cells--that is, at about 9 weeks of age. BB-DP rats and Wistar rats (controls) were studied from 3 to 20 weeks of age. Hyperplastic goitre development was studied by assessing the thyroid weight and by measuring the number of thyrocyte nuclei per 0.01 mm2 thyroid section. In addition, the in situ expression of interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), monocyte-chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1), and intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) were studied by immunohistochemistry. The in vitro proliferative capacity of BB-DP and Wistar thyrocytes was measured by tritiated-thymidine ([3H]TdR) and bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) incorporation into reconstituted, TSH- and non-TSH-stimulated, cultured thyroid follicles. Further in vitro studies consisted of measurement of the production of thyroxine (T4), triiodothyronine (T3), thyroglobulin, IL-6, TNF-alpha and MCP-1 by the thyroid follicles. BB-DP rats developed a small hyperplastic goitre between the ages of 9 and 12 weeks. The in vitro proliferative rate of thyrocytes isolated from hyperplastic BB-DP thyroids was significantly lower than that of Wistar thyrocytes. This phenomenon also occurred in follicles isolated from BB-DP rats before hyperplastic goitre development, which produced significantly less T4, but more T3, than did Wistar follicles of the same age. At the time of and after hyperplastic goitre development, BB-DP follicles exhibited altered metabolic behaviour and produced significantly more T4, but equal amounts of T3 compared with both Wistar follicles of the same age and follicles of younger BB-DP rats (both under basal conditions and TSH-stimulated). In vitro IL-6 production by these BB-DP thyroid follicles was also increased. There was no noteworthy difference in production of thyroglobulin and MCP-1 between BB-DP and Wistar follicles at any age. TNF-alpha was not produced by BB-DP or Wistar thyroid follicles. Immunohistochemistry revealed the expression of IL-6 by both BB-DP and Wistar thyroid follicle cells at all times of sampling. MCP-1 and TNF-alpha were expressed only when infiltrates were present in BB-DP thyroids (restricted to leucocytes, ages > 18 weeks). Modest ICAM-1 expression was restricted to large blood vessels in both BB-DP and Wistar thyroids; in the case of infiltrates (BB-DP rat) alone, high ICAM-1 expression was found on blood vessels and leucocytes in these infiltrations. At the time of intrathyroidal dendritic cells accumulation, BB-DP rats develop a small hyperplastic goitre. At that time there is also in vitro evidence for a shift to a higher production of thyroxine and IL-6 from thyrocyte follicles. The in vitro proliferation rate of BB-DP thyrocytes is, however, abnormally low (both in the pre- and hyperplastic period). Similar pre-autoimmune thyroid growth abnormalities have been described in another animal model of thyroid autoimmune disease, the obese strain chicken.

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Journal of Endocrinology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Simons, P., Delemarre, F. G., Jeucken, P. H., & Drexhage, H. (1998). Pre-autoimmune thyroid abnormalities in the biobreeding diabetes-prone (BB-DP) rat: a possible relation with the intrathyroid accumulation of dendritic cells and the initiation of the thyroid autoimmune response. Journal of Endocrinology. Retrieved from