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Blood. 2012 Jan 12;119(2):454-64. doi: 10.1182/blood-2011-08-371831. Epub 2011 Nov 16.

The TLR-mediated response of plasmacytoid dendritic cells is positively regulated by estradiol in vivo through cell-intrinsic estrogen receptor α signaling.

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Inserm, U, Toulouse, France.


Plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) produce large amounts of type I interferons (IFN-α/β) in response to viral or endogenous nucleic acids through activation of their endosomal Toll-like receptors (TLR-7 and TLR-9). Enhanced TLR-7-mediated IFN-α production by pDCs in women, compared with men, has been reported, but whether sex hormones, such as estrogens, are involved in this sex-based difference is unknown. Here we show, in humanized mice, that the TLR-7-mediated response of human pDCs is increased in female host mice relative to male. In a clinical trial, we establish that treatment of postmenopausal women with 17β-estradiol markedly enhances TLR-7- and TLR-9-dependent production of IFN-α by pDCs stimulated by synthetic ligands or by nucleic acid-containing immune complexes. In mice, we found exogenous and endogenous estrogens to promote the TLR-mediated cytokine secretion by pDCs through hematopoietic expression of estrogen receptor (ER) α. Genetic ablation of ERα gene in the DC lineage abrogated the enhancing effect of 17β-estradiol on their TLR-mediated production of IFN-α, showing that estrogens directly target pDCs in vivo. Our results uncover a previously unappreciated role for estrogens in regulating the innate functions of pDCs, which may account for sex-based differences in autoimmune and infectious diseases.

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