DEC 29, 2016 10:40 AM PST

Master Gene Switch Found for Autoimmune Disease in Women

WRITTEN BY: Jennifer Ellis

Scientists at the University of Michigan have discovered what they call a ‘master switch’ that causes women to be more prone to autoimmune diseases.

Most parts of the body can be affected by autoimmune disease, including the endocrine system, muscle, gastrointestinal tract, heart, skin, and kidneys. Autoimmune diseases tend to be inherited in families and even in individuals where a person has more than one affliction, which indicates that there are common mechanisms involved in disease susceptibility.

Autoimmune disorders are due to an inflammatory response from our immune systems.

Autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and psoriasis, tend to affect women much more than men for reasons that have previously been unknown. Approximately 8% of the population suffers from some sort of autoimmune disorder, with an estimated 78% of that being women. Current research on gender differences in autoimmune response centers on sex hormones. However, the Michigan group found no evidence for estrogen or testosterone involvement in onset of disease.

Professor Johann Gudjonsson, lead author for the study published in Nature Immunology, and his group examined gene expression patterns in skin from 31 healthy women and 51 healthy men. Skin is an important factor in autoimmune disorders and one of the main diagnostic criteria examined for diseases such as lupus.

Included in the 661 genes they found expressing differently between the men and women were several that played a role in immune function. In addition, they discovered a distinct molecular signature associated with susceptibility to autoimmune disease only in women, independent of age or hormone regulation. Expression results showed that this gender-specific molecular signature was regulated by a transcription factor called VGLL3. The VGLL3 network is a novel pathway upregulated in women and associated with multiple autoimmune diseases.

“This previously unknown inflammatory pathway promotes autoimmunity in women,” said Dr. Gudjonsson, “We found a completely new angle. Our team identified a gene expression difference between the sexes that is associated with susceptibility to autoimmune disease.”

The VGLL3 pathway was also activated in men with autoimmune diseases but at a much lower level. Because of the evident difference between the male and female samples, this research is garnering new attention for focusing on the gender-specific expression of immunological pathways.

“We found some striking differences in gene expression between the women and men,” says first author Yun Liang, Ph.D., a U-M dermatology research investigator.

Further research has started on how the pathway works, other players, and a more in-depth look into involved genes. The study provides a foundation for work on new therapies, both prevention and treatment, based on the VGLL3 regulator or other potential pathway blockers.

Sources: Newswise, NCBI, Nature Immunology

About the Author
  • I love all things science and am passionate about bringing science to the public through writing. With an M.S. in Genetics and experience in cancer research, marketing and technical writing, it is a pleasure to share the latest trends and findings in science on LabRoots.
You May Also Like
MAY 06, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Improved Genetic Technologies Find Elusive Genetic Mutations
MAY 06, 2021
Improved Genetic Technologies Find Elusive Genetic Mutations
Some genetic diseases are caused by inborn errors - genetic mutations that we're born with and that end up in every cell ...
JUN 06, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
How Autism-Associated Mutations in One Gene Impact the Brain
JUN 06, 2021
How Autism-Associated Mutations in One Gene Impact the Brain
Autism spectrum disorder is complex; it presents differently in different patients and may be influenced by many factors ...
JUN 20, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Revealing Epigenetic Causes of Type 1 Diabetes
JUN 20, 2021
Revealing Epigenetic Causes of Type 1 Diabetes
Our bodies have to regulate the level of glucose, or sugar, in the blood. The hormone insulin, produced by beta cells in ...
JUN 26, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Cardiac Atrophy Findings May Aid Astronauts in Long Space Flights
JUN 26, 2021
Cardiac Atrophy Findings May Aid Astronauts in Long Space Flights
Researchers led by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have discovered the molecular process behind a da ...
JUN 28, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
The 'Imprint' of Mom and Dad
JUN 28, 2021
The 'Imprint' of Mom and Dad
We carry two copies of each non-sex chromosome, and thus, two copies of most genes. For simplicity's sake, it's ...
JUL 18, 2021
Cannabis Sciences
Genetic Analysis Reveals Cannabis First Grown in China
JUL 18, 2021
Genetic Analysis Reveals Cannabis First Grown in China
Genetic analysis of over 100 cannabis Sativa genomes has revealed that the plants’ wild ancestors likely came from ...
Loading Comments...