New theory on why more women than men develop autoimmune diseases

June 5, 2018, University of Gothenburg

New findings are now being presented on possible mechanisms behind gender differences in the occurrence of rheumatism and other autoimmune diseases. The study, published in Nature Communications, can be of significance for the future treatment of diseases.

"It's very important to understand what causes these diseases to be so much more common among women," says Åsa Tivesten, professor of medicine at Sahlgrenska Academy, Sweden, a chief physician and one of the authors of the study. "In this way, we can eventually provide better treatment for the diseases."

In , the immune system creates antibodies that attack the body's own tissue. Almost all autoimmune diseases affect women more often than men. The gender difference is especially great in the case of lupus, a serious also known as or SLE. Nine out of ten of those afflicted are women.

It has been known that there is a link between the male sex hormone testosterone and protection against autoimmune diseases. Men are generally more protected than , who only have one tenth as much testosterone.

New possible mechanisms

Testosterone reduces the number of B cells, a type of lymphocyte that releases harmful antibodies. The researchers behind the study were trying to understand what the connection between testosterone and the production of B cells in the spleen actually looks like, mechanisms that have so far been unknown.

After numerous experiments on mice and studies of blood samples from 128 men, the researchers were able to conclude that the critical connection is the protein BAFF, which makes the B cells more viable.

"We have concluded that testosterone suppresses BAFF. If you eliminate testosterone, you get more BAFF and thereby more B in the spleen because they survive to a greater extent. Recognition of the link between and BAFF is completely new. No one has reported this in the past," says Åsa Tivesten.

Better use of medicines

The results correlate well with a previous study showing that genetic variations in BAFF can be linked to the risk of diseases such as lupus. That disease is treated with BAFF inhibitors, a medicine that has not, however, really lived up to expectations.

"That's why this information about how the body regulates the levels of BAFF is extremely important, so that we can continue to put the pieces together and try to understand which patients should have BAFF inhibitors and which should not. Accordingly, our study serves as a basis for further research on how the medicine can be used in a better way."

Explore further: Breakthrough opens door to safer lupus drugs

More information: Anna S. Wilhelmson et al. Testosterone is an endogenous regulator of BAFF and splenic B cell number, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04408-0

Related Stories

Breakthrough opens door to safer lupus drugs

May 14, 2015
A ground-breaking discovery by Monash University researchers could revolutionise treatments given to lupus sufferers, saving thousands of people each year from serious illness or death caused by secondary infections.

First lupus breakthrough in 50 years

April 28, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- A Monash researcher has played a crucial role in the first major lupus treatment breakthrough for over 50 years.

Genetic variant tied to MS and systemic lupus identified

April 27, 2017
(HealthDay)—A genetic variant that is associated with both multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) has been identified, according to a study published online April 26 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

New findings link estrogen and T cell immune response to autoimmune inflammation

June 1, 2018
Women are more prone to the development of autoimmune diseases. The female hormone estrogen is likely to affect the immune system. A team of scientists from Turku Center for Biotechnology and University of Georgia reported ...

Researchers use blood serum markers to develop lupus risk index

May 31, 2018
Researchers at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, USA have developed an index that identifies the risk for lupus based on the presence and amount of Immunoglobin G (IgG) and Immunoglobin M (IgM) antibodies and ...

Recommended for you

New study shows how gut immune cells are kept in control

June 22, 2018
Every day, the human gut works on a fine-tuned balance that ensures the retention of essential nutrients while preventing infection by potential armful microbes. Contributing to this surveillance system is a specialised group ...

Human immune 'trigger' map paves way for better treatments

June 21, 2018
A discovery about how human cells are 'triggered' to undergo an inflammatory type of cell death could have implications for treating cancer, stroke and tissue injury, and immune disorders.

Our intestinal microbiome influences metabolism—through the immune system

June 21, 2018
Research tells us that the commensal or "good" bacteria that inhabit our intestines help to regulate our metabolism. A new study in fruit flies, published June 21 in Cell Metabolism, shows one surprising way they do this.

Fetal T cells are first responders to infection in adults

June 20, 2018
Cornell University researchers have discovered there is a division of labor among immune cells that fight invading pathogens in the body.

How a thieving transcription factor dominates the genome

June 20, 2018
One powerful DNA-binding protein, the transcription factor PU.1, steals away other transcription factors and recruits them for its own purposes, effectively dominating gene regulation in developing immune cells, according ...

Severe stress may send immune system into overdrive

June 19, 2018
(HealthDay)—Trauma or intense stress may up your odds of developing an autoimmune disease, a new study suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.