Oct. 22, 2019


Clinical evidence shows that males are more prone to illness than females but no one is really sure why. A new study by BGU researchers as part of the global Immunological Genome Project (ImmGen) has tackled this question by comparing the transcriptome of the immune system of female and male mice. It recently came to ImmGen's notice that all of their studies focused on male mice. So, together with Dr. Tal Shay of BGU's Department of Life Sciences and her student Shani Gal-Oz, they profiled female mice. They and their colleagues discovered some significant differences, not all tied to XX vs XY chromosomes. 

Above: Dr. Tal Shay

Their findings were published recently in Nature Communications

When the researchers compared the female and male immune systems, in one cell type, macrophages, a few genes were expressed at higher levels in female mice. Stimulating the mice with interferon increased the difference between the macrophages of males and females. This difference might contribute to the stronger female reaction that helps them fight off infectious diseases and physical trauma more quickly and efficiently than their male counterparts. However, it is likely also what makes females more prone to develop auto-immune disorders, perhaps because of this fierce response to infection. 

Above: Shani Gal-Oz​

"Females might have an innate enhanced potential to withstand immune challenges due to more highly activated innate immune pathways prior to pathogen invasion. This female immune alertness, which makes females less vulnerable to infectious diseases, comes at the price of females being more prone to autoimmune diseases," the researchers write. 

Additional researchers from Harvard Medical School, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences of Japan participated in the study.​ 

The study was funded by a Broad-Israel Science Foundation Grant, an Israel Science Foundation Grant and by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health in the US.​

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