In 1948, Wolff and Chaikoff reported that organic binding of iodide in the thyroid was decreased when plasma iodide levels were elevated (acute Wolff-Chaikoff effect), and that adaptation or escape from the acute effect occurred in approximately 2 days, in the presence of continued high plasma iodide concentrations. We later demonstrated that the escape is attributable to a decrease in iodide transport into the thyroid, lowering the intrathyroidal iodine content below a critical inhibitory threshold and allowing organification of iodide to resume. We have now measured the rat thyroid sodium/iodide symporter (NIS) messenger RNA (mRNA) and protein levels, in response to both chronic and acute iodide excess, in an attempt to determine the mechanism responsible for the decreased iodide transport. Rats were given 0.05% NaI in their drinking water for 1 and 6 days in the chronic experiments, and a single 2000-microg dose of NaI i.p. in the acute experiments. Serum was collected for iodine and hormone measurements, and thyroids were frozen for subsequent measurement of NIS, TSH receptor, thyroid peroxidase (TPO), thyroglobulin, and cyclophilin mRNAs (by Northern blotting) as well as NIS protein (by Western blotting). Serum T4 and T3 concentrations were significantly decreased at 1 day in the chronic experiments and returned to normal at 6 days, and were unchanged in the acute experiments. Serum TSH levels were unchanged in both paradigms. Both NIS mRNA and protein were decreased at 1 and 6 days after chronic iodide ingestion. NIS mRNA was decreased at 6 and 24 h after acute iodide administration, whereas NIS protein was decreased only at 24 h. TPO mRNA was decreased at 6 days of chronic iodide ingestion and 24 h after acute iodide administration. There were no iodide-induced changes in TSH receptor and thyroglobulin mRNAs. These data suggest that iodide administration decreases both NIS mRNA and protein expression, by a mechanism that is likely to be, at least in part, transcriptional. Our findings support the hypothesis that the escape from the acute Wolff-Chaikoff effect is caused by a decrease in NIS, with a resultant decreased iodide transport into the thyroid. The observed decrease in TPO mRNA may contribute to the iodine-induced hypothyroidism that is common in patients with Hashimoto's thyroiditis.