1. Hormones have to be transported from their sites of synthesis to their target organs. For lipophilic hormones, such as steroids and thyroid hormones, transport is accomplished by binding to specific serum proteins, in the case of thyroxine (T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3) to thyroxine-binding globulin (TBG) and prealbumin (PA). Normally about 70% of circulating T4 and 75–80% of T3 is bound to TBG, about 20% of T4 and 10% of T3 to PA and 10–15% of each to albumin, which has a low affinity but high capacity for both hormones [1, 2]. Apart from facilitating transport, binding to serum protein prevents excessive loss of hormone into the urine by glomerular filtration or flooding into cells, and may provide a readily available reservoir in times of need. The union between binding proteins and their ligands is reversible, so that a small proportion of hormone is non-protein-bound or ‘free’, in equilibrium with that which is protein-bound. For T4 this free fraction is normally 0.02-0.04% of the total serum T4 concentration, for T3 about 0.3% [3, 4].
2. The major binding proteins of T4 and T3 will briefly be described and the nature of free T4 and T3 considered.