The properties of TSH receptors in normal and pathological human thyroid tissues were studied. Highly purified bovine TSH after lactoperoxidase iodination retained full biological activity, as assessed by radioreceptor assay. Binding of bovine [125I]TSH to 1000 x g pellets of human thyroid homogenate was specific with respect to hormone and tissue. Total binding amounted to 50-60% of total radioactivity using 10 mg (wet weight) normal thyroid tissue. Nonspecific binding was only 6% of total radioactivity. Normal thyroid tissue contained two orders of binding sites, which were shown to be independent of each other by Hill plot analysis. The high affinity sites [equilibrium dissociation constant (Kd), 0.015-0.16 x 10-9 M] were present in concentrations of 1.05-9.30 pmol/mg protein and concentrations of low affinity sites (Kd, 1.2-2.4 x 10-9 M) were 35.9-213 pmol/mg. In all pathological thyroid tissue studied, two orders of binding sites were found with dissociation constants similar to those of normal tissues, but the number of binding sites was markedly reduced. Both orders of binding sites in solitary "cold" adenomas and only the low affinity sites in thyroid tissue from patients with Graves' disease were significantly reduced in number (P less than 0.01). There was a questionable decrease in high affinity sites in the Graves' tissue (P = 0.05). We have found the definite presence but a decreased number of binding sites in both orders of receptors in papillary and follicular carcinomas. There were few or no binding sites in medullary carcinoma.