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Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2006 Sep;18(5):456-61.

Sex and systemic lupus erythematosus: the role of the sex hormones estrogen and prolactin on the regulation of autoreactive B cells.

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  • Department of Medicine, Columbia University, 1130 St. Nicholas Avenue, New York, NY 10032, USA.



For many decades, it has been speculated that sex hormones play a role in systemic lupus erythematosus. Recent data accumulated during the past few years provide striking evidence that hormonal modulation of B cells can have a profound impact on the survival, maturation and repertoire selection of autoreactive B cells and begin to explain the sex bias associated with the condition.


While there are still insufficient clinical data to define a role for estrogen or prolactin in human systemic lupus erythematosus, recent studies of anti-DNA antibody transgenic mice clearly demonstrate that an elevation in either estrogen or prolactin breaks tolerance of high affinity DNA-reactive B cells and induces a lupus phenotype. B cells with the same antigenic specificities are rescued by either estrogen or prolactin, but estrogen promotes the survival and activation of the T independent marginal zone B cell subset, while prolactin promotes the survival and activation of the T dependent follicular B cell subset.


Elevations in the levels of estrogen or prolactin can promote the survival and activation of high affinity autoreactive B cells. These hormones engage different B cell pathways to interfere with B cell tolerance. The identification of systemic lupus erythematosus patients with either an estrogen-responsive or prolactin-responsive disease will further the development of therapeutics that can specifically modulate hormonal responses.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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