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Sexual dimorphism in autoimmune disease.

We briefly survey the concept of autoimmunity and nominate the range of autoimmune diseases that include multisystemic and organ-specific disorders, and cite prevalences of autoimmune diseases in males and females, in humans and in experimental animals. Most human autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), multiple sclerosis (MS) and autoimmune thyroid disease, have an increased incidence and prevalence in females, but a few others such as autoimmune diabetes, the Guillain Barré syndrome (GBS) and psoriasis are increased in males. Animal models of autoimmunity show an equivalent sexual dimorphism. The possible reasons for the differing incidence and prevalence of autoimmune diseases in females and males engage our attention. Environmental exposures may differ for females and males. There are innate differences in the function of the female and male immune systems, and there is some evidence for differences between females and males in the ability of a target organ for autoimmunity to withstand damage. In seeking reasons for these differences, we review the role of sex hormones in immunity and include results of trials of hormone therapy in autoimmune diseases. The association of autoimmunity and pregnancy, a female-specific condition, is discussed, and the claimed effects of lymphoid cell microchimerism on provocation of autoimmunity are reviewed. Genetic predisposition is an important factor in autoimmune disease and we particularly focus on genes on the X and Y chromosomes, the role of X chromosome inactivation, and the interaction of the sex of the patient with other genetic factors. The possible role of epigenetic mechanisms, including environmental influences, is then surveyed. We assert that sex is a vital variable that must be considered in all immunological studies, as it should be at all levels of biological research.

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