The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism

Iodine contributes to thyroid autoimmunity in humans by unmasking a cryptic epitope on thyroglobulin.

PMID 24064687


The mechanisms linking thyroid autoimmunity and iodine use in humans are unknown. Our aim was to correlate iodine intake, thyroid autoimmunity, and recognition of thyroglobulin (Tg) epitopes after implementation of iodine prophylaxis. The general community living in an Italian village was evaluated. Thyroglobulin autoantibodies (TgAb), thyroperoxidase autoantibodies (TPOAb), and urinary iodine excretion were assessed in 906 iodized salt users (IS-users) and 389 nonusers (IS-nonusers). Ultrasound (US) was performed to identify thyroid hypoechogenicity, suggestive of Hashimoto thyroiditis (HT). TgAb epitope pattern in 16 IS-users and 17 IS-nonusers was evaluated by an inhibition binding assay to Tg, using human monoclonal TgAb-Fab directed to A, B, C, and D epitopes on Tg. Median urinary iodine excretion was slightly higher in IS-users than in IS-nonusers (112.0 μg/L vs 86.5 μg/L; P < .01). TgAb, and not TPOAb, was more frequent in IS-users (18.9% vs 13.6%, P = .02). HT-US was found in 87 subjects, among whom both positive TgAb (58.4% vs 31.8%, P = .03) and TPOAb (61.5% vs 45.4%. P = .04) were more frequent in IS-users. In this group significantly higher serum levels of TgAb (median 108 U/mL vs 30 U/mL; P = .02), but not of TPOAb, were present. Iodized salt use had no effect on the 1208 non HT-US subjects. TgAb directed to the epitope B of Tg were more frequent in IS-users than in IS-nonusers (27.5% vs 3.0%, P = .047). Iodine-induced thyroid autoimmunity is related to TgAb and the unmasking of a cryptic epitope on Tg contributes to this relationship in humans.