Stanford Medicine-Led Study Shows Why Women Are at Greater Risk of Autoimmune Disease

by Stanford Medicine senior science writer Bruce Goldman, February 1, 2024
In every cell in a woman’s body, one X chromosome is disabled to ensure that the right levels of proteins are produced from that chromosome pair. But the way the second chromosome is shut down generates unfamiliar molecular structures that can trigger antibodies (shown in red) targeting those structures. (Credit: Emily Moskal)

Research throws light on the mystery of why women are much more prone to autoimmune disorders: A molecule made by one X chromosome in every female cell can generate antibodies to a woman’s own tissues. Somewhere between 24 and 50 million Americans have an autoimmune disease, a condition in which the immune system attacks our own tissues. As many as 4 out of 5 of those people are women. Rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and scleroderma are examples of autoimmune disorders marked by lopsided female-to-male ratios. The ratio for lupus is 9 to 1; for Sjogren’s syndrome, it’s 19 to 1. Stanford Medicine scientists and their colleagues have traced this disparity to the most fundamental feature differentiating biological female mammals from males, possibly fostering a better way to predict autoimmune disorders before they develop.

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