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Sexual dimorphism in SLE: above and beyond sex hormones

Read time: 1 mins
Published:1st Jan 2019
Author: Christou EAA, Banos A, Kosmara D, Bertsias GK, Boumpas DT.
Source: Lupus
Availability: Free full text
Ref.:Lupus. 2019 Jan;28(1):3-10.
DOI:10.1177/0961203318815768
Sexual dimorphism in SLE: above and beyond sex hormones


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is characterized by aberrant production of auto-antibodies and a sexual dimorphism both in the phenotypic expression and frequency of the disease between males and females. The striking female predominance was initially attributed primarily to sex hormones. However, recent data challenge this simplistic view and point more towards genetic and epigenetic factors accounting for this difference. More specifically, several SLE-associated single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) have been found to play an important role in the gender predilection in SLE. Their effect is mediated through their involvement in sex-hormone and immune system signalling and dysregulation of the expression of genes and miRNAs pertinent to the immune system. Additionally, the genetic factors are interchangeably associated with epigenetic modifications such as DNA methylation and histone modification, thus revealing a highly complex network of responsible mechanisms. Of importance, disturbance in the epigenetic process of X chromosome inactivation in females as well as in rare X chromosome abnormalities leads to increased expression of X-linked immune-related genes and miRNAs, which might predispose females to SLE. Microbiota dysbiosis has also been implicated in the sexual dimorphism by the production of oestrogens within the gut and the regulation of oestrogen-responsive immune-related genes. Sexual dimorphism in SLE is an area of active research, and elucidation of its molecular basis may facilitate ongoing efforts towards personalized care.


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