We recently reported that, during in vitro thyroid-hormone synthesis, H2O2 stress cleaved thyroglobulin (Tg) into C-terminal peptides. These peptides were found to contain the immunodominant region of Tg recognized by Tg autoantibodies from patients with an autoimmune thyroid disease. To test the hypothesis that Tg fragmentation is an early upstream initiating event involved in Tg autoimmune response and the consequence of oxidative injuries, we studied the effect of H2O2 stress on human thyroid cells. In culture conditions allowing Tg synthesis and iodine organification by the cells, we found that bolus addition of increasing millimolar doses of H2O2 induced a dose–response appearance of floating cells in the culture medium. These cells apparently resulted from a necrotic process, and they bore iodinated Tg fragments. These fragments were found to be similar to those previously obtained in vitro from purified Tg. In both cases, Tg peptides were recognized by a well-defined monoclonal antibody directed to the immunodominant region of Tg. The smallest immunoreactive Tg peptide had a molecular mass of 40kDa and entered human thyrocytes more efficiently than the entire Tg. These data suggest that thyrocytes exposed to locally increased H2O2 doses accumulate fragmented Tg for further delivery into surrounding living thyrocytes in the course of an autoimmune response.

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