Reverse triiodothyronine (rT3) differs from triiodothyronine (T3) in the positions of the iodine atoms attached to the aromatic rings. The majority of rT3 found in the circulation is formed by peripheral deiodination (removal of an iodine atom) of T4 (thyroxine). rT3 is believed to be metabolically inactive.
The rT3 level tends to follow the T4 level: low in hypothyroidism and high in hyperthyroidism. Additionally, increased levels of rT3 have been observed in starvation, anorexia nervosa, severe trauma and hemorrhagic shock, hepatic dysfunction, postoperative states, severe infection, and in burn patients (ie, "sick euthyroid" syndrome). This appears to be the result of a switchover in deiodination functions with the conversion of T4 to rT3 being favored over the production of T3.