Equality of the sexes? Not always when it comes to biology

    MUHC researchers demonstrate that estrogen renders the innate immune
    system of women more powerful than that of men

    MONTREAL, May 13 /CNW Telbec/ - When it comes to immunity, men may not
have been dealt an equal hand. The latest study by Dr. Maya Saleh, of the
Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and McGill
University, shows that women have a more powerful immune system than men. In
fact, the production of estrogen by females could have a beneficial effect on
the innate inflammatory response against bacterial pathogens. These surprising
results were published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
    More specifically, estrogen naturally produced in women seems to block
the production of an enzyme called Caspase-12, which itself blocks the
inflammatory process. The presence of estrogen would therefore have a
beneficial effect on innate immunity, which represents the body's first line
of defence against pathogenic organisms. "These results demonstrate that women
have a more powerful inflammatory response than men," said Dr. Saleh.
    This study was conducted on mice that lack the Caspase-12 gene, meaning
that the mice were extremely resistant to infection. The human Caspase-12 gene
was implanted in a group of male and female mice, yet only the males became
more prone to infection. "We were very surprised by these results, and we
determined that the estrogen produced by the female mice blocked the
expression of the human Caspase-12 gene," explained Dr. Saleh. "We were also
able to locate where the estrogen receptor binds on the gene in order to block
its expression, which indicates that the hormone exerts direct action in this
    Since these experiments were conducted using a human gene, the
researchers consider these results to be applicable to humans. This feature of
the female innate immune system might have evolved to better protect women's
reproductive role.
    The positive effect of natural estrogen on our resistence to infection is
also exhibited with synthetic hormones such as 17-beta-estradiol. This finding
might therefore open the door to new therapeutic applications that reinforce
the immune system, but a question remains: will men be amenable to the idea of
being treated with an exclusively female hormone?


    This study was supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes for
Health research and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

    Dr Maya Saleh

    Dr. Maya Saleh is a researcher with the Critical Care Division and the
Centre for the Study of Host Resistance at the Research Institute of the
McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) as well as an assistant professor with
McGill University's Faculty of Medicine.


    This project is a collaboration between the laboratory of Dr Maya Saleh
at the Centre for the Study of Host Resistance at the Research Institute of
the MUHC, Montreal, with Garabet Yeretssian, Karine Doiron and Wei Shao, the
laboratories of Dr Blair R. Leavitt and Michael R. Hayden both at the Centre
of Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics, Vancouver, and the laboratory of Dr
Donald W. Nicholson at Merck Research Laboratories, USA.
    You will find this press release, with the original article and a short
audio interview by following this link: http://www.muhc.ca/media/news/

    The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI MUHC)
is a world-renowned biomedical and health-care hospital research centre.
Located in Montreal, Quebec, the institute is the research arm of the MUHC,
the university health center affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at McGill
University. The institute supports over 600 researchers, nearly 1200 graduate
and post-doctoral students and operates more than 300 laboratories devoted to
a broad spectrum of fundamental and clinical research. The Research Institute
operates at the forefront of knowledge, innovation and technology and is
inextricably linked to the clinical programs of the MUHC, ensuring that
patients benefit directly from the latest research-based knowledge.
    The Research Institute of the MUHC is supported in part by the Fonds de
la recherche en santé du Québec.
    For further details visit: www.muhc.ca/research.

For further information:

For further information: Isabelle Kling, Communications Coordinator
(research), MUHC Public Relations and Communications, (514) 843-1560,
isabelle.kling@muhc.mcgill.ca; Mark Shainblum, Media Relations Officer
(Research), McGill University, (514) 398-2189, mark.shainblum@mcgill.ca

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