The mission proves that biological sex matters in the immune system

She eventually found a postdoctoral position in the lab of one of her thesis committee members. And in the years since, as she has set up a lab of her own at the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, she has carefully made the case that gender — determined by Biological properties like our sex chromosomes, sex hormones, and reproductive tissues—actually influence immune responses.

Through research in animal and human models, Klein and others have shown how and why the immune systems of men and women respond differently to influenza, HIV, and other viruses. certain cancer therapies, and why most women get better protection from vaccines but are also more likely to develop severe asthma and autoimmune disorders (something that has been known but not thought to be due to immunological differences). Immunologist Dawn Newcomb of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee said: “Work from her lab has greatly enhanced our understanding of vaccine response and function. immunity in men and women”. (When referring to individuals in this article, “male” is used as shorthand for individuals with XY chromosomes, penises and testes, and those undergoing testosterone-dominated puberty who have an infection. XX chromosomes and the vulva, and undergoes estrogen-driven puberty.)

Through her research, as well as her hard work arranging meetings and symposia, Klein has helped drive change in immunology, an area that has long argued for gender differences. not important. Historically, most trials have only been enrolled in men, leading to uncountable — and possibly uncountable — consequences for public health and medicine. For example, the practice has led women to be denied a potentially life-saving HIV treatment and made them more likely to suffer worse side effects from drugs and vaccines when given in the same doses. like men.

Men and women don’t get infectious or autoimmune diseases in the same way. Women are nine times more likely to develop lupus than men, and they have been hospitalized at higher rates for certain strains of the flu. Meanwhile, men are at a significantly higher risk of contracting tuberculosis and dying from covid-19 than women.

In the 1990s, scientists often attributed that difference to gender rather than gender — for norms, roles, relationships, behaviors, and other sociocultural factors. not due to biological differences in the immune system.

For example, although women are three times more likely to develop multiple sclerosis than men, immunologists in the 1990s ignored the idea that this difference might have a biological basis, says Rhonda. Voskuhl, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said. “People will say, ‘Oh, women just complain more – they’re a bit hysterical,'” Voskuhl said. basic. So it’s an uphill battle.”

Sabra Klein and Janna Shapiro look at the specimen on the lighter.
Sabra Klein (left) and Janna Shapiro in Klein’s lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.


While there is a historical practice of “bikini lingerie” – the notion that there is no major difference between the sexes beyond the parts that fit the bikini – we now know that whether you are looking at the metabolism, cardiovascular or immune system, both biological sex differences and socio-cultural sex differences exist. And both play a role in disease susceptibility. For example, men are more likely to get TB – they are twice as likely to get it than women – which can be attributed in part to differences in their immune responses and in part. This is because men are more likely to smoke and work in mining or construction jobs that expose them to toxic substances, which can weaken the immune defenses of the lungs.

How to distinguish the effects of gender and gender? That’s where the animal models come in. “Gender is a social construct that we associate with humans, so animals don’t have sexes,” says Chyren Hunter, associate director of basic and translational research in the Institutes of Health’s Office of Research. The United States of America said. Women’s Health. Seeing the same effect in both animal and human models is a good starting point for understanding whether the immune response is regulated by sex.

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