The continuing importance of thyroid scintigraphy in the era of high-resolution ultrasound
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At the molecular level, the uptake of radioiodine and pertechnetate is proportional to the expression of the thyroidal sodium/iodine symporter (NIS). Qualitative and quantitative scintigraphic evaluation of the thyroid is performed with a gamma camera fitted with an on-line computer system and enables determination of the iodine uptake or the technetium uptake (TCTU) as an iodine clearance equivalent. Despite new molecular genetic insights into congenital hypothyroidism, the iodine-123 or pertechnetate scan remains the most accurate test for the detection of ectopic thyroid tissue. Following the identification of specific mutations of the genes coding for the NIS, thyroid peroxidase and pendrin, the discharge test has lost its role in establishing the diagnosis of inherited dyshormonogenesis, but it is still of value in the assessment of defect severity. In PDS mutations the test can be used to establish the diagnosis of syndromic disease. Quantitative pertechnetate scintigraphy is the most sensitive and specific technique for the diagnosis and quantification of thyroid autonomy. The method has proved to be valuable in risk stratification of spontaneous or iodine-induced hyperthyroidism, in the estimation of the target volume prior to radioiodine therapy and in the evaluation of therapeutic success after definitive treatment. In iodine deficiency areas the thyroid scan remains indispensable for the functional characterisation of a thyroid nodule and is still a first-line diagnostic procedure in cases of suspected thyroid malignancy. This is especially of importance in patients with Graves' disease, among whom a relatively high prevalence of cancer has been found in cold thyroid nodules. While determination of the TCTU is without any value in the differentiation between autoimmune thyroiditis and Graves' disease in most cases, it is of substantial importance in the differentiation between hyperthyroid autoimmune thyroiditis and Graves' disease.