Administration of streptococcal cell wall (SCW) preparation induces an inflammatory response in susceptible animals that is a model frequently used for rheumatoid arthritis. The degree of inflammation produced by SCW is greatly enhanced by low endogenous levels of glucocorticoids due to diminished hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity. Because decreased glucocorticoid production is known to occur in the hypothyroid state, we tested whether hypothyroidism would increase, and conversely, whether hyperthyroidism would decrease, the inflammatory responses to SCW. Adult female Sprague Dawley rats were fed a regular diet (control), L-T4 (T4; hyperthyroid), or 6-propyl-thiouracil (hypothyroid) in drinking water for 7 weeks. Hypothyroidism resulted in elevated plasma levels of TSH and hypothalamic preproTRH messenger RNA (mRNA) while reducing anterior pituitary POMC mRNA and plasma ACTH and corticosterone levels. In contrast, hyperthyroid rats produced opposite results: decreased measures of central thyroid function but increased pituitary-adrenal function. Three days after administration of SCW, macrophage inflammatory protein-1α and interleukin- 1β mRNA expression increased dramatically in controls and even further in hypothyroid animals, as measured by Northern blot analysis. In contrast, T4- treated rats showed significant inhibition of these inflammatory markers. Thus, the hyperthyroid state combined with increased endogenous glucocorticoid levels is protective against inflammatory challenges. The inverse relationship between preproTRH expression and pituitary-adrenal function suggests the possibility of a direct inhibitory link connecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and thyroid axes, and suggests alternative sites of therapeutic intervention for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory associated disorders.
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