Leptin and the pituitary-thyroid axis: a comparative study in lean, obese, hypothyroid and hyperthyroid subjects*

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE

To study interactions between leptin and the pituitary-thyroid axis, both in euthyroid and dysthyroid states.

SUBJECTS AND MEASUREMENTS

We investigated the relationships of plasma leptin to levels of free thyroid hormones and TSH in 18 patients with newly diagnosed hyperthyroidism, 22 with newly diagnosed primary hypothyroidism, and 32 lean (body mass index [BMI]<30) and 37 obese (BMI>30 kg/m2) euthyroid subjects. Hypothyroid patients were restudied during thyroxine replacement treatment.

RESULTS

Median [interquartile range] plasma leptin concentrations were highest in obese euthyroid subjects (31.5 [19.0-48.0] and in untreated hypothyroid patients (19.2 [11.5-31.5]), and lowest levels in untreated hyperthyroid patients (8.9 [5.5-11.1]) and lean euthyroid control subjects (6.6 [3.9-14.4] μg/l (Kruskall-Wallis one-way analysis of variance; P<0.0001). In euthyroid subjects, plasma leptin levels were higher in obese than in lean subjects (P<0.00001). In obese subjects plasma levels of TSH correlated with percentage body fat (r=0.67; P<0.001) and plasma leptin (r=0.61; P<0.001). In untreated hyperthyroid subjects plasma leptin was unrelated to free T3, and in untreated hypothyroidism plasma leptin was unrelated to either free T3 or TSH concentrations (all P=NS). In untreated hyperthyroid, but not hypothyroid, patients plasma leptin concentrations correlated with BMI (r=0.57; P=0.02). Treatment of hypothyroidism with thyroxine resulted in a significant reduction in plasma leptin concentrations from 20.8 (11.8 to 31.6) to 12.9 (4.6-21.2) μg/l (P=0.005), but BMI did not change significantly in the hypothyroid subjects being studied prospectively.

CONCLUSIONS

(i) In euthyroid subjects, plasma leptin and TSH levels correlate, and both are positively correlated with adiposity. (ii) Plasma leptin was significantly elevated in hypothyroid subjects, to levels similar to those seen in obese euthyroid subjects. (iii) Treatment of hypothyroidism resulted in a reduction in the raised plasma leptin levels. The data are consistent with the hypothesis that leptin and the pituitary-thyroid axis interact in the euthyroid state, and that hypothyroidism reversibly increases leptin concentrations.

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