Thyroid Autoantibodies (TPOAb, TgAb and TRAb)

Thyroid. 2003;13(1) 

In This Article

Clinical Uses of TRAb Measurement

The clinical use of TRAb measurements for the diagnosis and follow-up of AITD remains a matter of controversy and differs geographically. The differential diagnosis of hyperthyroidism can be resolved in most patients without resorting to TRAb testing. Nevertheless, the presence of TRAb may distinguish Graves' disease from factitious thyrotoxicosis and other manifestations of hyperthyroidism such as subacute or post-partum thyroiditis and toxic nodular goiter.

TRAb measurements have also been proposed as a means for predicting the course of Graves' disease. A declining TRAb level is often seen in hyperthyroid patients in clinical remission after treatment with antithyroid drugs (ATD). After ATD withdrawal, very high levels of TRAb correlate quite well with prompt relapse, but this situation involves very few patients. Conversely, a significant number of patients with undetectable or low TRAb levels will relapse. A meta-analysis of the relationship between TRAb levels and the risk of relapse has shown that 25% of patients are misclassified by TRAb assays.[263] This suggests that after ATD therapy, a follow-up of the patients is necessary whatever the TRAb level at the time of ATD withdrawal and that TRAb measurement is not cost effective for this purpose.[263]

There is general agreement that TRAb measurements can be used to predict fetal and/or neonatal thyroid dysfunction in pregnant women with a previous history of AITD.[8,252] High levels of TRAb in the mother during the third trimester of pregnancy suggest a risk of thyroid dysfunction in the offspring.[8,282] Two to 10% of pregnant women with very elevated TRAb deliver newborns with hyperthyroidism.[8] The risk for neonatal hyperthyroidism is negligible following successful treatment of hyperthyroidism with antithyroid drugs, but can develop after radioiodide treatment if TRAb levels remain elevated.[8] Euthyroid pregnant women (+/- L-T4 treatment) who have had prior radioiodide therapy for Graves' disease should have TRAb levels measured both in early pregnancy, when an elevated value is a significant risk factor for fetal hyperthyroidism, and during the third trimester, to evaluate for the risk of neonatal hyperthyroidism.[8] Pregnant women who take antithyroid drugs (ATD) for Graves' disease should have TRAb measured in the third trimester. High TRAb levels in such patients should prompt a thorough clinical and biochemical evaluation of the neonate for hyperthyroidism, both at birth (cord blood) and at 4 - 7 days, after the effects of the transplacental passage of ATD have disappeared.[300] It is worth noting that the TBII receptor assays are often used for this purpose since they detect both stimulating (TSAb) and in rare cases, blocking antibodies (TBAb/TSBAb) which cause transient hypothyroidism in 1:180,000 of newborns.[301] It is also advisable to test for both stimulating and blocking antibodies because the expression of thyroid dysfunction may be different in the mother and the infant.[253]

Guideline 39. Clinical Uses of TRAb Measurement

  • To investigate the etiology of hyperthyroidism when the diagnosis is not clinically obvious.

  • A declining TRAb concentration during long-term antithyroid drug therapy is suggestive of remission. However TRAb measurements can be misleading in 25% of such patients.

  • TRAb measurements are useful to diagnose Graves' disease patients and for relating TRAb values to a treatment algorithm.

  • To evaluate patients suspected of "euthyroid Graves' opthalmopathy". Undetectable TRAb however, does not exclude the condition.

  • Although TSAb assays have theoretical advantages, some believe that TBII tests, that detect both stimulating (TSAb) and the rare cases of blocking (TBAb/TSBAb) antibodies, are equally useful.

  • For pregnant women with a past or present history of Graves' disease. Note: Pregnant women who are euthyroid after receiving prior antithyroid drug treatment for Graves' disease have a negligible risk for fetal or neonatal hyperthyroidism.

  • Euthyroid pregnant women (± L-T4 treatment) who have had prior radioiodide treatment for Graves' disease should have TRAb measured both early in pregnancy when a high value is a risk factor for fetal hyperthyroidism (2-10%), and during the third trimester to evaluate the risk of neonatal hyperthyroidism.

  • Pregnant women who take antithyroid drugs (ATD) for Graves' disease to maintain a euthyroid state during pregnancy should have TRAb measured in the third trimester. A high TBII value should prompt a clinical and biochemical evaluation of the neonate for hyperthyroidism, both at birth (cord blood) and at 4 - 7 days after the effects of transplacental passage of ATD have been lost.

  • The assessment of the risk of fetal and neonatal thyroid dysfunction necessitates the detection of either blocking or stimulating TRAb when mothers have no intact thyroid following past therapy for Graves' hyperthyroidism.

  • To identify neonates with transient hypothyroidism due to the presence of TSH receptor blocking antibodies.

Guideline 40. Improvements Needed in Thyroid Antibody Tests

  • Current thyroid autoantibody assays should be submitted to a comparative study of their analytical and clinical performances.

  • A comparison study of the antigen preparations currently in use would facilitate the identification of the method(s) best suited for clinical thyroid autoantibody testing.

  • The characteristics of the antigen preparations used in the test should be stated for all thyroid autoantibody assays.

  • Reference preparations of antigens should be made available.

The role of TRAb in thyroid-associated opthalmopathy (TAO) is uncertain.[302] TAO appears to be exacerbated by radioiodide therapy.[303] Furthermore, TRAb and other thyroid antibody levels increase significantly after radioiodide therapy.[304,305,306] This suggests that TRAb measurements prior to radioiodide therapy may be useful to predict the risk of TAO but as yet there are no prospective studies to document this observation.


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