OBJECTIVE: Thyroid hormone is essential for maintaining normal neurological functions both during development and in adult life. Type III-iodothyronine deiodinase (D3) degrades thyroid hormones by converting thyroxine and 3,5,3'-triiodothyroinine (T3) to inactive metabolites. A regional expression of D3 activity has been observed in the human central nervous system (CNS), and a critical role for D3 has been suggested in the regulation of local T3 content in concert with other enzymes. DESIGN: This study was undertaken to further characterize D3 activity in human CNS and to understand its role in the local regulation of T3 content. METHODS: Autoptic specimens from various areas of human CNS were obtained 6--27 h postmortem from 14 donors who died from cardiovascular accident, neoplastic disease or infectious disease. D3 was determined by measuring the conversion of T3 to 3,3'-diiodothyronine. The T3 content was measured by radioimmunoassay in ethanol extracts, using a specific antiserum. RESULTS: High levels of D3 activity were observed in hippocampus and temporal cortex, lower levels being found in the thalamus, hypothalamus, midbrain cerebellum, parietal and frontal cortex, and brain stem. An inverse relationship between D3 activity and T3 content in these areas was demonstrated. CONCLUSIONS: We have concluded that D3 contributes to the local regulation of T3 content in the human CNS.