Thyroid hormone is essential for normal metabolism and development, and overt abnormalities in thyroid function lead to common endocrine disorders affecting approximately 10% of individuals over their life span. In addition, even mild alterations in thyroid function are associated with weight changes, atrial fibrillation, osteoporosis, and psychiatric disorders. To identify novel variants underlying thyroid function, we performed a large meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies for serum levels of the highly heritable thyroid function markers TSH and FT4, in up to 26,420 and 17,520 euthyroid subjects, respectively. Here we report 26 independent associations, including several novel loci for TSH (PDE10A, VEGFA, IGFBP5, NFIA, SOX9, PRDM11, FGF7, INSR, ABO, MIR1179, NRG1, MBIP, ITPK1, SASH1, GLIS3) and FT4 (LHX3, FOXE1, AADAT, NETO1/FBXO15, LPCAT2/CAPNS2). Notably, only limited overlap was detected between TSH and FT4 associated signals, in spite of the feedback regulation of their circulating levels by the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis. Five of the reported loci (PDE8B, PDE10A, MAF/LOC440389, NETO1/FBXO15, and LPCAT2/CAPNS2) show strong gender-specific differences, which offer clues for the known sexual dimorphism in thyroid function and related pathologies. Importantly, the TSH-associated loci contribute not only to variation within the normal range, but also to TSH values outside the reference range, suggesting that they may be involved in thyroid dysfunction. Overall, our findings explain, respectively, 5.64% and 2.30% of total TSH and FT4 trait variance, and they improve the current knowledge of the regulation of hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis function and the consequences of genetic variation for hypo- or hyperthyroidism.
Levels of thyroid hormones are tightly regulated by TSH produced in the pituitary, and even mild alterations in their concentrations are strong indicators of thyroid pathologies, which are very common worldwide. To identify common genetic variants associated with the highly heritable markers of thyroid function, TSH and FT4, we conducted a meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies in 26,420 and 17,520 individuals, respectively, of European ancestry with normal thyroid function. Our analysis identified 26 independent genetic variants regulating these traits, several of which are new, and confirmed previously detected polymorphisms affecting TSH (within the PDE8B gene and near CAPZB, MAF/LOC440389, and NR3C2) and FT4 (within DIO1) levels. Gender-specific differences in the genetic effects of several variants for TSH and FT4 levels were identified at several loci, which offer clues to understand the known sexual dimorphism in thyroid function and pathology. Of particular clinical interest, we show that TSH-associated loci contribute not only to normal variation, but also to TSH values outside reference range, suggesting that they may be involved in thyroid dysfunction. Overall, our findings add to the developing landscape of the regulation of thyroid homeostasis and the consequences of genetic variation for thyroid related diseases.