Thyroid Autoantibodies (TPOAb, TgAb and TRAb)

Thyroid. 2003;13(1) 

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Autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD) causes cellular damage and alters thyroid gland function by humoral and cell-mediated mechanisms. Cellular damage occurs when sensitized T-lymphocytes and/or autoantibodies bind to thyroid cell membranes causing cell lysis and inflammatory reactions. Alterations in thyroid gland function result from the action of stimulating or blocking autoantibodies on cell membrane receptors. Three principal thyroid autoantigens are involved in AITD. These are thyroperoxidase (TPO), thyroglobulin (Tg) and the TSH receptor. Other autoantigens, such as the Sodium Iodide Symporter (NIS) have also been described, but as yet have no diagnostic role in thyroid autoimmunity.[248] TSH receptor autoantibodies (TRAb) are heterogeneous and may either mimic the action of TSH and cause hyperthyroidism as observed in Graves' disease or alternatively, antagonize the action of TSH and cause hypothyroidism. The latter occurs most notably in the neonate as a result of a mother with antibodies due to AITD. TPO antibodies (TPOAb) appear involved in the tissue destructive processes associated with the hypothyroidism observed in Hashimoto's and atrophic thyroiditis. The appearance of TPOAb usually precedes the development of thyroid dysfunction. Some studies suggest that TPOAb may be cytotoxic to the thyroid.[249,250] The pathologic role of TgAb remains unclear. In iodide sufficient areas, TgAb is primarily determined as an adjunct test to serum Tg measurement, because the presence of TgAb can interfere with the methods that quantitate Tg [Section-3 E6]. In iodide deficient areas, serum TgAb measurements may be useful for detecting autoimmune thyroid disease in patients with a nodular goiter and for monitoring iodide therapy for endemic goiter.

Laboratory tests that determine the cell-mediated aspects of the autoimmune process are not currently available. However, tests of the humoral response, i.e. thyroid autoantibodies, can be assessed in most clinical laboratories. Unfortunately, the diagnostic and prognostic use of thyroid autoantibody measurements is hampered by technical problems as discussed below. Although autoantibody tests have inherent clinical utility in a number of clinical situations, these tests should be selectively employed.


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