Basal plasma levels of corticosterone and corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG) have been investigated in Obese strain (OS) chickens afflicted with spontaneous autoimmune thyroiditis (SAT). Corticosterone was determined radioimmunologically, and CBG by using a highly sensitive radioligand saturation assay. OS chickens displayed total corticosterone levels not different from healthy normal White Leghorn (NWL) chickens. CBG, however, was found to be twice as high in OS chickens as compared with their healthy counterparts, irrespective of sex or age. This quantitative difference in the CBG level is not compensated for by either altered affinity or specificity of the molecule. Furthermore, no differences were found in the response of OS and NWL lymphocytes to the suppressive effect of glucocorticoids in vitro. We therefore assume that OS animals are deficient in free, hormonally active corticosterone. An additional indication for such a diminished glucocorticoid tonus was that in vivo treatment of OS chickens with glucocorticoid hormones, thus increasing the free and active hormone fraction, normalizes the T cell hyperreactivity and significantly reduces thyroid infiltration. Possible pathophysiological implications of a diminished glucocorticoid tonus for spontaneous autoimmunity, as well as possible explanations for the beneficial effects of glucocorticoid treatment on the development of SAT, are discussed.

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