The thyroid is one of the largest endocrine glands in the body. This gland is found in the neck inferior to (below) the thyroid cartilage (also known as the Adam's apple in men) and at approximately the same level as the cricoid cartilage. The thyroid controls how quickly the body burns energy, makes proteins, and how sensitive the body should be to other hormones.
The thyroid participates in these processes by producing thyroid hormones, principally thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones regulate the rate of metabolism and affect the growth and rate of function of many other systems in the body. Iodine is an essential component of both T3 and T4. The thyroid also produces the hormone calcitonin, which plays a role in calcium homeostasis.
The thyroid is controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary. The gland gets its name from the Greek word for "shield", after the shape of the related thyroid cartilage. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) are the most common problems of the thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ and is composed of two cone-like lobes or wings: lobus dexter (right lobe) and lobus sinister (left lobe), connected with the isthmus. The organ is situated on the anterior side of the neck, lying against and around the larynx and trachea, reaching posteriorly the oesophagus and carotid sheath. It starts cranially at the oblique line on the thyroid cartilage (just below the laryngeal prominence or Adam's apple) and extends inferiorly to the fourth to sixth tracheal ring. It is difficult to demarcate the gland's upper and lower border with vertebral levels as it moves position in relation to these during swallowing.
The thyroid gland is covered by a fibrous sheath, the capsula glandulae thyroidea, composed of an internal and external layer. The external layer is anteriorly continuous with the lamina pretrachealis fasciae cervicalis and posteriorolaterally continuous with the carotid sheath. The gland is covered anteriorly with infrahyoid muscles and laterally with the sternocleidomastoid muscle. Posteriorly, the gland is fixed to the cricoid and tracheal cartilage and cricopharyngeus muscle by a thickening of the fascia to form the posterior suspensory ligament of Berry. In variable extent, Zuckerkandl's tubercle, a pyramidal extension of the thyroid lobe, is present at the most posterior side of the lobe. In this region the recurrent laryngeal nerve and the inferior thyroid artery pass next to or in the ligament and tubercle. Between the two layers of the capsule and on the posterior side of the lobes there are on each side two parathyroid glands.
The thyroid isthmus is variable in presence and size, and can encompass a cranially extending pyramid lobe (lobus pyramidalis or processus pyramidalis), remnant of the thyroglossal duct. The thyroid is one of the larger endocrine glands, weighing 2-3 grams in neonates and 18-60 grams in adults, and is increased in pregnancy.
The thyroid is supplied with arterial blood from the superior thyroid artery, a branch of the external carotid artery, and the inferior thyroid artery, a branch of the thyrocervical trunk, and sometimes by the thyroid ima artery, branching directly from the aortic arch. The venous blood is drained via superior thyroid veins, draining in the internal jugular vein, and via inferior thyroid veins, draining via the plexus thyroideus impar in the left brachiocephalic vein. Lymphatic drainage passes frequently the lateral deep cervical lymph nodes and the pre- and parathracheal lymph nodes. The gland is supplied by sympathetic nerve input from the superior cervical ganglion and the cervicothoracic ganglion of the sympathetic trunk, and by parasympathetic nerve input from the superior laryngeal nerve and the recurrent laryngeal nerve.
The primary function of the thyroid is production of the hormones thyroxine (T4), triiodothyronine (T3), and calcitonin. Up to 80% of the T4 is converted to T3 by peripheral organs such as the liver, kidney and spleen. T3 is about ten times more active than T4.
T3 and T4 production and action
Thyroxine (T4) is synthesised by the follicular cells from free tyrosine and on the tyrosine residues of the protein called thyroglobulin (TG). Iodine is captured with the "iodine trap" by the hydrogen peroxide generated by the enzyme thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and linked to the 3' and 5' sites of the benzene ring of the tyrosine residues on TG, and on free tyrosine. Upon stimulation by the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), the follicular cells reabsorb TG and proteolytically cleave the iodinated tyrosines from TG, forming T4 and T3 (in T3, one iodine is absent compared to T4), and releasing them into the blood. Deiodinase enzymes convert T4 to T3. Thyroid hormone that is secreted from the gland is about 90% T4 and about 10% T3.
Cells of the brain are a major target for the thyroid hormones T3 and T4. Thyroid hormones play a particularly crucial role in brain development during pregnancy. A transport protein (OATP1C1) has been identified that seems to be important for T4 transport across the blood brain barrier. A second transport protein (MCT8) is important for T3 transport across brain cell membranes. In the blood, T4 and T3 are partially bound to thyroxine-binding globulin, transthyretin and albumin. Only a very small fraction of the circulating hormone is free (unbound) - T4 0.03% and T3 0.3%. Only the free fraction has hormonal activity. As with the steroid hormones and retinoic acid, thyroid hormones cross the cell membrane and bind to intracellular receptors (α1, α2, β1 and β2), which act alone, in pairs or together with the retinoid X-receptor as transcription factors to modulate DNA transcription
T3 and T4 regulation
The production of thyroxine and triiodothyronine is regulated by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), released by the anterior pituitary (that is in turn released as a result of TRH release by the hypothalamus). The thyroid and thyrotropes form a negative feedback loop: TSH production is suppressed when the T4 levels are high, and vice versa. The TSH production itself is modulated by thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), which is produced by the hypothalamus and secreted at an increased rate in situations such as cold (in which an accelerated metabolism would generate more heat). TSH production is blunted by somatostatin (SRIH), rising levels of glucocorticoids and sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone), and excessively high
Diseases of thyroid gland:
Hyper- and hypofunction
Depending on the prescribed school of thought, affects between 2% and 20% of the population.
Hashimoto's thyroiditis / thyroiditis
Toxic thyroid nodule
Toxic nodular struma (Plummer's disease)
De Quervain's thyroiditis (inflammation starting as hyperthyroidism, can end as hypothyroidism)
Thyroglossal duct cyst
Lymphomas and metastasis from elsewhere (rare)
Medication linked to thyroid disease includes amiodarone, lithium salts, some types of interferon and IL-2.
The measurement of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels is often used by doctors as a screening test. Elevated TSH levels can signify an inadequate thyroid hormone production, while suppressed levels can point at excessive unregulated production of hormone.
If TSH is abnormal, decreased levels of thyroid hormones T4 and T3 may be present; T4 and T3 levels may be determined with blood tests to confirm that their levels are decreased.
Autoantibodies may be detected in various disease states (anti-TG, anti-TPO, TSH receptor stimulating antibodies).
There are two cancer markers for thyroid derived cancers. Thyroglobulin (TG) for well differentiated papillary or follicular adenocarcinoma, and the rare medullary thyroid cancer has calcitonin as the marker.
Very infrequently, TBG and transthyretin levels may be abnormal; these are not routinely tested.
To differentiate between duifferent types of hypothyroidism, a specific test may be used. Thyroid-releasing hormone (TRH) is injected into the body through a vein. This hormone is naturally secreted by the hypothalamus and stimulates the pituitary gland. The pituitary responds by releasing thyroid -stimulating hormone (TSH). Large amounts of externally administered TRH can supress the subsequent release of TSH. This amount of release-suppression is exaggerated in primary hypothyroidism, major depression, cocaine dependence, amphetamine dependence and chronic phencyclidine abuse. There is a failure
to suppress in the manic phase of bipolar disorder. [/align][/align]
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