Several lines of evidence suggest a definite and unique link between CNS demyelinating diseases and autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD). The aim of the current study was to systematically compare the clinical and laboratory features of patients with co-existent AITD and CNS demyelinating disease with those of patients with just CNS demyelinating disease. Forty-four patients with co-existing CNS demyelinating disease and AITD were identified and their clinical and radiological features were recorded. Blood and DNA were collected and tested for HLA type and for the response of T cells and antibodies to a variety of antigens. Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) without AITD and healthy individuals were included as controls. Patients with co-existing AITD and CNS demyelinating disease were almost exclusively female (43/44) and had prominent spinal cord involvement as the main neurological finding. The HLA molecules carried by individuals with CNS demyelinating disease and AITD differed from both other MS patients and healthy individuals. Furthermore, patients with both CNS disease and AITD showed less T cell reactivity than patients with MS alone to myelin proteolipid protein, but, compared to other groups, showed elevated levels of T cell reactivity to the calcitonin gene-related peptide, which is present in both the CNS and the thyroid, and elevated levels of T cell and antibody to the leucine-rich repeat-containing G-protein coupled receptor 4 (LGR4), a molecule that is expressed in the brainstem and spinal cord, and which is a homolog of the thyroid-stimulating hormone receptor. We suggest that reactivity of autoreactive immune cells in these patients against antigens present in both the thyroid and the spinal cord is a potential mechanism underlying the pattern of lesion development in the CNS in patients with coexisting AITD and MS and might indicate a novel mechanism of disease pathogenesis in these patients.
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