Finding the sex factor in immunity

Professor Axel Kallies has led a study that has discovered the clearest mechanism yet for how female and male immune systems operate differently.

Susceptibility to various diseases is known to differ between women and men. While it has been suggested that sex-related differences in physiology may account for this, until now there has been little evidence of how this directly impacts male and female immune systems.

However, research led by Professor Kallies, of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, has made a significant breakthrough on this front.

The study set out to investigate why metabolic diseases – which can lead to an increased susceptibility to diabetes, heart disease and stroke – are much more common among men than women. By examining the body fat of mice, the researchers found stark differences between females and males in the immune systems operating within this tissue.

The findings were published in Nature in February. According to Professor Kallies, they show that male body fat is more “primed” to inflammation than female body fat. This may explain why men are more susceptible to metabolic diseases, which are associated with high levels of inflammation.

Read more on Pursuit.