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Autoimmune Diseases Study Shows Differences Between Men And Women

s, they targeted five major scientific questions which they say should govern future research. They include:

  • Sexual differences in the immune response: The immune system uses certain compounds -- cytokines -- to create a pro-inflammatory environment and increase antibody production. Past research has shown that women's immune response tends to be more vigorous than men's. The task force proposes large-scale studies to find the cause for this difference.

  • Mechanisms underlying hormonal effects: Because more women get autoimmune diseases than do men, some researchers have suggested that specific sex hormones -- estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, prolactin, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 -- may govern how the immune system responds. The effect of some hormones differs based on how much is present in the bloodstream. The task force called for studies to uncover the actual cellular mechanisms for these differing effects.

  • Hormones and the immunology of pregnancy: The levels of some hormones will vary with a woman's menstrual cycle. During pregnancy, some hormones increase while others decrease. For example, women with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis enjoy a lessening of disease severity during the nine months they are pregnant. But women with systemic lupus erythematosus see their disease worsen or stay the same during pregnancy. The task force wants new, broad studies to explain the differences.

  • Genetic factors and autoimmune disease: Since some autoimmune diseases recur in particular families, there is a strong possibility that these illnesses have a genetic cause. A person's genetic makeup might play a role in causing these diseases, or at least make them more susceptible to them. Some earlier animal studies seemed to indicate that specific gene alterations may stimulate the onset of autoimmune diseases.

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Contact: Caroline Whitacre
Whitacre.3@osu.edu
614-292-5889
Ohio State University
26-Feb-1999


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