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J Immunol. 2005 Oct 15;175(8):5050-7.

Estrogen enhances susceptibility to experimental autoimmune myasthenia gravis by promoting type 1-polarized immune responses.

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  • 1Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale Unité 563, Centre de Physiopathologie de Toulouse Purpan, Institut Claude de Préval, Hôpital Purpan, Toulouse, France.


Myasthenia gravis (MG) is an organ-specific autoimmune disease caused in most cases by autoantibodies against the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR). It is now well documented that many autoimmune diseases, including MG, are more prevalent in women than in men, and that fluctuations in disease severity occur during pregnancy. These observations raise the question of the potential role of sex hormones, such as estrogens, as mediators of sex differences in autoimmunity. In the present study, we have analyzed the effect of 17beta-estradiol (E2) on the pathogenesis of experimental autoimmune myasthenia gravis (EAMG), an animal model of MG. We show that treatment with E2 before Ag priming is necessary and sufficient to promote AChR-specific Th1 cell expansion in vivo. This time-limited exposure to E2 enhances the production of anti-AChR IgG2a(b) (specific for b allotype; e.g., B6) and IgG2b, but not IgG1, and significantly increases the severity of EAMG in mice. Interestingly, the E2-mediated augmentation in AChR-specific Th1 response correlates with an enhanced production of IL-12 by splenic APCs through the recruitment of CD8alpha(+) dendritic cells. These data provide the first evidence that estrogen enhances EAMG, and sheds some light on the role of sex hormones in immune responses and susceptibility to autoimmune disease in women.

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