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J Immunol. 2002 May 15;168(10):5369-75.

Molecular mechanisms for gender differences in susceptibility to T cell-mediated autoimmune diabetes in nonobese diabetic mice.

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Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Laboratory of Viral and Immunopathogenesis of Diabetes, Julia McFarlane Diabetes Research Center, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 4N1.


Nonobese diabetic (NOD) mice spontaneously develop diabetes with a strong female prevalence; however, the mechanisms for this gender difference in susceptibility to T cell-mediated autoimmune diabetes are poorly understood. This investigation was initiated to find mechanisms by which sex hormones might affect the development of autoimmune diabetes in NOD mice. We examined the expression of IFN-gamma, a characteristic Th1 cytokine, and IL-4, a characteristic Th2 cytokine, in islet infiltrates of female and male NOD mice at various ages. We found that the most significant difference in cytokine production between sexes was during the early stages of insulitis at 4 wk of age. IFN-gamma was significantly higher in young females, whereas IL-4 was higher in young males. CD4(+) T cells isolated from lymph nodes of female mice and activated with anti-CD3 and anti-CD28 Abs produced more IFN-gamma, but less IL-4, as compared with males. Treatment of CD4(+) T cells with estrogen significantly increased, whereas testosterone treatment decreased the IL-12-induced production of IFN-gamma. We then examined whether the change in IL-12-induced IFN-gamma production by treatment with sex hormones was due to the regulation of STAT4 activation. We found that estrogen treatment increased the phosphorylation of STAT4 in IL-12-stimulated T cells. We conclude that the increased susceptibility of female NOD mice to the development of autoimmune diabetes could be due to the enhancement of the Th1 immune response through the increase of IL-12-induced STAT4 activation by estrogen.

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