Iodine and thyroglobulin concentrations, as well as iodine, T-3, T-4 and sialic acid contents of thyroglobulin, were measured in thyroid glands collected postmortem from 42 human premature or term newborns and infants. Three groups were considered: very preterm newborns (24-32 postmenstrual weeks, < 5 days postnatal life), preterm and term newborns (34-41 postmenstrual weeks, < 5 days postnatal life) and infants (born at term, postnatal age 1-8 months). Five very preterm and seven preterm newborns received a daily dose of 10 mu g/kg L-T-4 for at least 3 days. Thyroid weight and sialic acid content of thyroglobulin progressed with maturation. Intrathyroidal concentrations of iodine and thyroglobulin did not increase significantly before the 42nd week of postmenstrual age. The level of thyroglobulin iodination increased during the postnatal life, except in the very preterm neonates. T-4 and T-3 content of thyroglobulin was directly proportional to its degree of iodination and positively related to its sialic acid content. L-T-4 treatment of preterm newborns increased thyroglobulin iodination and T-4-T-3 content, without increasing thyroglobulin concentration in the thyroid. It was concluded that the storage of thyroglobulin and iodine in the thyroid develops around term birth. This, associated with the resulting rapid theoretical turnover of the intrathyroidal pool of T-4 in Tg, could be an important factor of increased risk of neonatal hypothyroxinemia in the premature infants. The L-T-4 treatment of preterm newborns does not accelerate the maturational process of the thyroid gland. (C) Societe francaise de biochimie et biologie moleculaire / Elsevier, Paris.