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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Sex hormones influence on the immune system: basic and clinical aspects in autoimmunity.

Sex hormones seem to play an important role as modulators of the autoimmune disease onset/perpetuation. Generally, steroid hormones are implicated in the immune response, with estrogens as enhancers at least of the humoral immunity and androgens and progesterone (and glucocorticoids) as natural immunosuppressors. Synovial fluid levels (SF) of proinflammatory estrogens relative to androgens are significantly elevated in both male and female rheumatoid arthritis ( RA) patients, as compared to controls, which is most probably due to increase of local enzymatic aromatase activity. Serum levels of estrogens have been found altered in RA patients, particularly estradiol in man. Thus, available steroid prehormones are rapidly converted to proinflammatory estrogens in the synovial tissue in the presence of inflammatory cytokines (i.e., TNFalpha, IL-1, IL-6). The increased estrogen concentrations observed in RA SF of both sexes are characterized mainly by the hydroxylated forms, in particular, 16alpha-hydroxyestrone, showing a mitogenic tumor growth stimulating role. Altered serum hydroxylated estrogens have been found also in serum of systemic lupus erythematosus ( SLE) patients. As a matter of fact, our recent studies indicate that 17-beta estradiol (E2) clearly enhanced the expression of markers of cell growth and proliferation, whereas testosterone ( T) induced an increase of markers indicating DNA damage and apoptosis. In particular, our data further shows that the enhancing role of estrogens on immune/inflammatory response is exerted by activating the NFkB complex pathway. In conclusion, locally increased estrogens (i.e., synovial tissue in RA or skin in SLE) might exert activating effects on cell proliferation, including macrophages and fibroblasts, suggesting new roles for estrogens in autoimmunity.[1]


  1. Sex hormones influence on the immune system: basic and clinical aspects in autoimmunity. Cutolo, M., Sulli, A., Capellino, S., Villaggio, B., Montagna, P., Seriolo, B., Straub, R.H. Lupus (2004) [Pubmed]
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