Volume 63 (2017) Issue 5 Pages 463-472
Thyroid hormones (THs) are essential for the correct development of nearly every structure in the body from the very early stages of development, yet the embryonic thyroid gland is not functional at these stages. To clarify the roles of the egg yolk as a source of THs, the TH content in the yolk and the expression of TH regulator genes in the yolk sac membrane were evaluated throughout the 21-day incubation period of chicken embryos. The yolk TH content (22.3 ng triiodothyronine and 654.7 ng thyroxine per total yolk on day 4 of incubation) decreased almost linearly along with development. Real-time PCR revealed gene expression of transthyretin, a principal TH distributor in the chicken, and of a TH-inactivating iodothyronine deiodinase (DIO3), until the second week of incubation when the embryonic pituitary-thyroid axis is generally thought to start functioning. The TH-activating deiodinase (DIO2) and transmembrane transporter of thyroxine (SLCO1C1) genes were expressed in the last week of incubation, which coincided with a marked increase of circulating thyroxine and a reduction in the yolk sac weight. DIO1, which can remove iodine from inactive THs, was expressed throughout the incubation period. It is assumed that the chicken yolk sac inactivates THs contained abundantly in the yolk and supplies the hormones to the developing embryo in appropriate concentrations until the second week of incubation, while THs may be activated in the yolk sac membrane in the last week of incubation. Additionally, the yolk sac could serve as a source of iodine for the embryo.