- In the rat, 48 h of food deprivation significantly reduces hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) gene expression, anterior pituitary thyrotropin (TSH) gene expression and circulating triiodothyronine (T3). Using in situ hybridization histochemistry, we have now assessed the effect of selective nutritional deprivation, by comparing protein-free and protein and fat-free diets with a normal diet matched for total energy content. As previously demonstrated, fasting markedly reduced PVN TRH transcripts, pituitary TSB beta transcripts, circulating T3 and body weight. Compared to rats fed a control diet, rats fed a protein-free or a protein and fat-free diet of similar energy content showed a highly significant decrease in PVN TRH transcripts, pituitary TSB beta transcripts and circulating T3 levels. The exclusion of fat from the protein-free diet did not produce any further decline in the parameters measured. This indicates that variations in the protein composition alone of the diet are sufficient to reduce hypothalamic TRH mRNA, pituitary TSB beta mRNA and plasma T3, and are the predominant factors in the TRH response to starvation.