T4 + T3 combination therapy: any progress?

Wilmar M Wiersinga
Endocrine 2019, 66 (1): 70-78
Guidelines on T4 + T3 combination therapy were published in 2012. This review investigates whether the issue is better understood 7 years later. Dissatisfaction with the outcome of T4 monotherapy remains high. Persistent symptoms consist mostly of fatigue, weight gain, problems with memory and thinking and mood disturbances. T4 monotherapy is associated with low serum T3 levels, which often require TSH-suppressive doses of L-T4 for normalization. Peripheral tissue thyroid function tests during T4 treatment indicate mild hyperthyroidism at TSH < 0.03 mU/L and mild hypothyroidism at TSH 0.3-5.0 mU/L; tissues are closest to euthyroidism at TSH 0.03-0.3 mU/L. This is explained by the finding that whereas T4 is usually ubiquinated and targeted for proteasomal degradation, hypothalamic T4 is rather stable and less sensitive to ubiquination. A normal serum TSH consequently does not necessarily indicate a euthyroid state. Persistent symptoms in L-T4 treated patients despite a normal serum TSH remain incompletely understood. One hypothesis is that a SNP (Thr92Ala) in DIO2 (required for local production of T3 out of T4) interferes with its kinetics and/or action, resulting in a local hypothyroid state in the brain. Effective treatment of persistent symptoms has not yet realized. One may try T4 + T3 combination treatment in selected patients as an experimental n = 1 study. The 2012 ETA guidelines are still valid for this purpose. More well-designed randomized clinical trials in selected patients are key in order to make progress. In the meantime the whole issue has become rather complicated by commercial and political overtones, as evident from skyrocketing prices of T3 tablets, aggressive pressure groups and motions in the House of Lords.

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