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Front Immunol. 2016 Jan 6;6:635. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2015.00635. eCollection 2015.

The Immune System Is a Natural Target for Estrogen Action: Opposing Effects of Estrogen in Two Prototypical Autoimmune Diseases.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech , Blacksburg, VA , USA.


Analogous to other physiological systems, the immune system also demonstrates remarkable sex differences. Although the reasons for sex differences in immune responses are not precisely understood, it potentially involves differences in sex hormones (estrogens, androgens, and differential sex hormone receptor-mediated events), X-chromosomes, microbiome, epigenetics among others. Overall, females tend to have more responsive and robust immune system compared to their male counterparts. It is therefore not surprising that females respond more aggressively to self-antigens and are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases. Female hormone (estrogen or 17β-estradiol) can potentially act on all cellular subsets of the immune system through estrogen receptor-dependent and -independent mechanisms. This minireview highlights differential expression of estrogen receptors on immune cells, major estrogen-mediated signaling pathways, and their effect on immune cells. Since estrogen has varied effects in female-predominant autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus erythematosus, we will mechanistically postulate the potential differential role of estrogen in these chronic debilitating diseases.


MS; SLE; autoimmune; estrogen; immune cell; signaling

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