A sensitive [125I]-T4 binding assay was used to measure serum T4-binding globulin (TBG) in 60 individuals selected on the basis of their total circulating T3 concentrations, and a relationship between TBG and circulating thyroid hormone levels in humans was confirmed. There was a significant correlation between serum TBG and T3 or free T4 index. TBG secretion and TBG messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) production were studied with a continuous culture of the human hepatoblastoma cell line, HepG2. Cells were maintained in serum-free media for experimental manipulations. The addition of 100 nmol/L T3 to the cell medium resulted in a time-dependent down-regulation of TBG mRNA to 33 +/- 6% (+/- SD, n = 4) of untreated control levels by 24 h. Suppression of TBG mRNA was first detectable at 8 h (57% of untreated control levels). The effect of T3 was dose-responsive, with half-maximal suppression of TBG mRNA occurring at a bioavailable T3 concentration of approximately 30 pmol/L. The effect of T3 on TBG mRNA was not caused by a change in mRNA stability. Proteins secreted by HepG2 cells bound T4 with an affinity identical to that of normal circulating TBG. Cell secretion of TBG was parallel to total protein secretion and consistent with a TBG secretion rate of 50 ng/10(6) cells per day. Variations in the concentration of secreted binding protein in the presence of T3 corresponded to the changes observed in TBG mRNA. These data show that circulating TBG concentration is negatively correlated with total serum T3 in vivo. The corresponding down-regulation observed between TBG mRNA and secreted protein in HepG2 cells suggests that this effect is the result of the action of T3 on cellular TBG mRNA synthesis.