Alkaline (pI 8·6–7·5) and neutral (pI 7·0–6·0) isoforms of human TSH have been isolated from a highly purified intrapituitary preparation by isoelectric focusing and compared for their respective actions on thyroid cell proliferation. Both TSH isoforms displayed the same ability to bind to porcine thyroid membranes as the original hormone preparation, indicating a similar recognition at the receptor sites. Alkaline forms showed a higher potency in inducing either cyclic AMP (cAMP) production or [3H]thymidine incorporation in FRTL-5 cells (half-maximal effective doses (ED50 values)=0·25 and 0·29 nm respectively) compared with their neutral counterparts (ED50 values=0·66 and 0·70 nm respectively). Increasing the concentration of alkaline forms in the presence of a half-maximal concentration of neutral TSH resulted in a profound inhibition of cell growth without a significant change in cAMP. Conversely, increasing the amount of neutral forms in the presence of a half-maximal dose of alkaline TSH resulted in an additive response for cAMP production but not in cell proliferation.
To assess whether glycosylation might be responsible for the variation in hormone action, both alkaline and neutral TSH isoforms were tested for recognition of their carbohydrate chains by concanavalin A (Con A) and ricin. No major difference was found in binding to Con A, indicating that the contribution of carbohydrates to changes in hormone pI was not related to core branching. Very few galactose residues were accessible in either hormone fraction since little binding to ricin was observed. Isoelectric focusing of TSH forms before and after neuraminidase treatment revealed that neutral forms had a higher sialic acid content than alkaline TSH.
In conclusion, the current findings show that TSH isoforms differentially affect cAMP production and cell growth. TSH fractions with a high sialic acid content and a low mitogenic activity behave as antagonists to the more active forms for cell proliferation. It is suggested that physiological control of TSH action at the thyroid gland may reside in the respective amounts of various TSH forms which, once bound to their receptor, can induce variable activation of post-receptor events while controlling cell proliferation.