Scientists Uncover How Men's & Women's Immune Systems Are Different
Differences in male and female biology have long been understood to result in health disparities between the sexes. Men are more likely to have metabolism-related diseases, for example, while women are more prone to some autoimmune disorders.
Until now, the reasons for those differences weren't fully understood. But thanks to new research out of Australia, the answer appears to lie in the immune system. Specifically, scientists have figured out how male and female immune systems are different.
And according to the study's lead author, Ajithkumar Vasanthakumar, Ph.D., this breakthrough discovery could go on to change the way we view and treat chronic disease.
For their research, scientists from Monash University and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Center looked at the body fat (aka adipose tissue) of male and female mice, observing significant differences in both the amount and the function of regulatory T-cells within the fat.
T-cells, or Treg cells, are a type of immune cell that affect inflammation, immune function, and more. And on top of that, fat tissue itself can affect metabolic function and inflammation, too.
After looking at every kind of cell in the mice's fat tissue, the team found a new cell that communicates with T-cells. This new cell determines how T-cells function in fat tissue—but as it so happens, only males have it.
Why does this matter?
Calling the findings a remarkable breakthrough, Vasanthakumar says, "Not only did we discover dramatic differences in Treg cells, we also discovered a cell type that responds directly to the male sex hormone, testosterone, and is therefore specific to males."
He goes on to explain that this cell signals T-cells to activate, which means whether you're male or female will change the way your immune system functions. "For too long the male physiology and the male immune system was considered the 'norm' in research and in clinical studies," Vasanthakumar notes, adding that their research suggests "strategies to treat a range of diseases may have to be different between men and women."
Moving forward, researchers want to see if these immune system differences are relevant to autoimmune diseases and cancers, as well. But namely, the knowledge gives researchers and doctors something new to consider when studying and treating men and women.
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