Thyroid hormone is essential for normal growth and development. For certain T4 effects, there is a critical period during ontogeny when normal T4 levels are required, and thyroid replacement after that period cannot correct the changes in hypothyroid animals. We have previously described a prolonged high expression of serum insulin-like growth factor binding protein (IGFBP)-2 during the perinatal period in congenitally hypothyroid rats. To see if this effect was confined only to a certain period during rat ontogeny, we made rats hypothyroid with methimazole treatment either prenatally, or at different postnatal ages from 1 to 14 days of life, and at adult age. Serum IGF-I levels were reduced by approximately 30% in all the 18-day-old hypothyroid animals, and did not correlate with the duration of the hypothyroid state. Serum IGF-I levels in the adult animals were 50% of control levels. At the age of 18 days, control animals had only very low levels of IGFBP- 2 demonstrable by western ligand blotting, whereas the congenitally hypothyroid animals had elevated levels. Pups placed on methimazole treatment since the first day of life showed higher IGFBP-2 levels at the age of 18 days, although the change was not as prominent as in the congenitally hypothyroid animals (200% vs. 500% of control levels, respectively). Binding protein changes were approximately 2-fold at the mRNA level. Rats started on methimazole after the first 5 days of life showed normal low levels of IGFBP-2 at the age of 18 days. Abnormal IGBFP-2 expression in congenitally or neonatally hypothyroid animals could be corrected by thyroid hormone replacement, if started during the first week of the life, but not later. In adult hypothyroid animals, there was no induction of IGFBP-2 expression, but the levels of IGFBP-3 and -4 were decreased to 80% and to 30% of control levels, respectively. IGFBP-3 messenger RNA (mRNA) levels were decreased to 50% of control levels but IGFBP-4 mRNA levels were paradoxically increased in the hypothyroid animals. All these changes could be corrected by T4 replacement. In conclusion, there exists a critical period during the perinatal development of the rat, when thyroid hormone is essential for a subsequent normal IGFBP-2 ontogenic pattern. Adult animals show a completely different IGFBP response to hypothyroidism, with a decrease of IGFBP-3 and -4 levels. Thus, the effects of thyroid hormone on IGF-IGFBP axis regulation depend on the developmental stage of the animal.
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