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Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have been shown to disrupt thyroid hormone (TH) functions in experimental animals, and one of the proposed disruption mechanisms is direct binding of hydroxylated PBDE (OH-PBDE) to TH receptors (TRs). However, previous data on TH receptor binding and TH activity of OH-PBDEs were very limited and sometimes inconsistent. In the present paper, we examined the binding potency of ten OH-PBDEs with different degrees of bromination to TR using a fluorescence competitive binding assay. The results showed that the ten OH-PBDEs bound to TR with potency that correlated to their bromination level. We further examined their effect on TR using a coactivator binding assay and GH3 cell proliferation assay. Different TR activities of OH-PBDEs were observed depending on their degree of bromination. Four low-brominated OH-PBDEs (2′-OH-BDE-28, 3′-OH-BDE-28, 5-OH-BDE-47, 6-OH-BDE-47) were found to be TR agonists, which recruited the coactivator peptide and enhanced GH3 cell proliferation. However, three high-brominated OH-PBDEs (3-OH-BDE-100, 3′-OH-BDE-154, 4-OH-BDE-188) were tested to be antagonists. Molecular docking was employed to simulate the interactions of OH-PBDEs with TR and identify the structural determinants for TR binding and activity. According to the docking results, low-brominated OH-PBDEs, which are weak binders but TR agonists, bind with TR at the inner side of its binding pocket, whereas high-brominated compounds, which are potent binders but TR antagonists, reside at the outer region. These results indicate that OH-PBDEs have different activities on TR (agonistic or antagonistic), possibly due to their different binding geometries with the receptor.▸ Thyroid hormone (TH) activity of OH-PBDEs with different Br number was evaluated. ▸ Four different experimental approaches were employed to investigate the mechanism. ▸ Low-brominated OH-PBDEs were agonists, but high-brominated ones were antagonists. ▸ Low-brominated OH-PBDEs bind to TH receptor differently than high-brominated ones.