Mild perinatal hypothyroidism may result from inadequate iodine intake, insufficient treatment of congenital hypothyroidism, or exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Because thyroid hormones are critical for brain development, severe hypothyroidism that is untreated in infancy causes irreversible cretinism. Milder hypothyroidism may also affect cognitive development; however, the effects of mild and/or moderate hypothyroidism on brain development are not fully understood. In this study, we examined the behavior of adult male mice rendered mildly hypothyroid during the perinatal period using low-dose propylthiouracil (PTU). PTU was administered through drinking water (5 or 50 ppm) from gestational day 14 to postnatal day 21. Cognitive performance, studied by an object in-location test (OLT), was impaired in PTU-treated mice at postnatal week 8. These results suggest that, although the hypothyroidism was mild, it partially impaired cognitive function. We next measured the concentration of neurotransmitters (glutamate, g-aminobutyric acid, and glycine) in the hippocampus using in vivo microdialysis during OLT. The concentrations of neurotransmitters, particularly glutamate and glycine, decreased in PTU-treated mice. The expression levels of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor subunits, which are profound regulators of glutamate neurotransmission and memory function, also were decreased in PTU-treated mice. These data indicate that mild perinatal hypothyroidism causes cognitive disorders in adult offspring. Such disorders may be partially induced secondary to decreased concentrations of neurotransmitters and receptor expression.
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