Study indicates sex-specific differences in immune system
A study led by researchers from Australia finds crucial differences in the way the immune system acting in the body fat of male and female mice operates.
- Studying the visceral adipose tissue (VAT) in the mice, they find key differences. Visceral adipose tissue is fat tissue that is found in the abdominal region, surrounding various organs.
- This includes perigonadal VAT which surrounds the ovaries in females and testes in males, which is what the researchers studied.
Controlling immune response
- The perigonadal VAT taken from male mice had many more regulatory T cells (Treg) than that of female mice. These cells play a role in controlling immune response to the self and external cells, thereby protecting the body from autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
- The Treg cells in the male VAT also showed a distinct phenotype, functional parameters and gene expression pattern compared to Treg cells in female VAT.
- A special population of stromal cells that made the cytokine IL-33 was exclusive to male VAT.
- Historically, visceral adipose tissue was simply regarded as an energy storage [organ]. Many studies, however, have highlighted its endocrine function.
- Visceral adipose tissue has an endocrine function, meaning it secretes adipokines and hormones that play key roles in energy balance and metabolism.
- The study has implications for the way trials are conducted with animal models when carrying out research on diseases.
- For instance when studying metabolic disease, mostly male mice are used. This study implies that findings of such a test will not hold equally good for males and females.
- Until the recent past, for clinical trials mostly men were recruited although it is clear that disease susceptibility and response to drugs are different.