OBJECTIVE: Thyroglobulin (Tg) is stored within the follicular lumen mainly in a soluble form, but globules made of insoluble multimers are also present and considered to be a mechanism to store prohormone at high concentration. We investigated the immunohistochemical properties of these intrafollicular globules and their possible processing by thyroid cells upon stimulation in the human and in the mouse. DESIGN: Human thyroids (normal, Graves' disease and hot adenomas) and thyroids from old ICR mice without or with goitrogenic treatment were processed for light microscopy. METHODS: Immunohistochemistry for Tg with a polyclonal antibody and two monoclonal antibodies, one specific for thyroxine-rich-iodinated Tg and the other recognizing Tg independently of its iodine level, staining with periodic-acid-schiff, and binding of lectins specific for mannose and sialic acid were performed on all tIssue sections. Intrafollicular globules were quantified, with distinction between 'active' or 'hot' and 'hypofunctioning' or 'cold' follicles. RESULTS: In normal human and old mouse thyroids, the intrafollicular globules were strongly stained with PAS, but negative for the three anti-Tg antibodies and the two lectin-binding assays, while the surrounding soluble Tg was positive. In normal human tIssue, globules were more frequent in 'hypofunctioning' than in 'active' follicles. They were exceptional in Graves' disease and hot adenomas. In old mice, Tg globules were more frequent in 'cold' than in 'hot' follicles. Along with the goitrogen treatment, they became fewer, fragmented and more often present in follicles with a 'hot' aspect. CONCLUSIONS: Upon TSH stimulation, thyrocytes become able to process colloid globules suggesting that this stock of Tg can be used in vivo for thyroid hormone synthesis.