Gender, hormones at birth may determine risk of immune-related diseases
Mast cells, also known as mastocytes or labrocytes, are a type of white blood cells that play a crucial role in immune and neuroimmune systems.
Men and women are biologically different, so it’s quite natural to assume that diseases affect them differently. Studies have shown that these differences show up no matter what the disease; COVID-19 , heart disease, stroke or autoimmune disorders. Most researches indicate that it’s the way adult sex hormones work and inform on women’s immune responses that dictate these points of differences.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that perinatal hormones (the hormones produced in your body right before or after birth) may be more responsible for the diseases you contract throughout your life, especially if they are associated with mast cells.
Mast cell-associated diseases and sex bias
Mast cells, also known as mastocytes or labrocytes, are a type of white blood cells that play a crucial role in immune and neuroimmune systems. They are vital in the creation of the first line of defence against diseases, infectious or otherwise. The study explains that these mast cells exhibit a sex bias, and many health issues like allergy, anaphylaxis, asthma, neuroinflammatory pain disorders like migraines, irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmune diseases like lupus are associated with mast cell dysfunctions.
The researchers explain that unlike adult gonadal hormones and associated diseases, mast cell-associated health issues start showing up even in prepubescent children, especially girls. They used data collected from rodent models to discover that compared to females, males exhibit significantly less severe mast cell-mediated anaphylactic responses before puberty, and this trend persisted into adulthood. This reduced severity of mast cell-mediated anaphylaxis in males is linked to the naturally high levels of androgens (a group of hormones that play a role in male traits and reproductive function) they have at birth.
Why perinatal exposure to androgens is needed
This perinatal exposure to androgens is necessary because it guides mast cell progenitors in the bone marrow, and decreases the concentration of mast-cell mediators like histamine, serotonin and proteases. Female mast cells have a higher store of these inflammatory cell mediators, which get released into their system leading to aggressive immune responses. While this may protect women against infections, even ones like COVID-19 , it also puts them at an increased risk of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
The researchers also found that the dearth of these androgens in females at the perinatal stage can be remedied by increasing their exposure to testosterone propionate, a type of androgen hormone, while they are still in the uterus. They found that such an in utero exposure reduced female histamine levels and lessened the severity of their anaphylactic responses as adults. This exposure may, therefore, make female mast cells behave more like male ones, thus reducing the risks of mast cell-associated diseases.
It is important to note here that this study was conducted on mice, and that any future therapies for cell mediation to reduce sex-biased immunological and other diseases would require further research, clinical trials and global approval. The findings of this study are, however, still heartening because they throw much-needed light on why women are at a considerably higher risk of contracting certain diseases.
For more information, read our articles on Women’s health.
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