Extra X chromosome-linked gene explains decreased severity of viral infections in females

April 18, 2023 | Biotechnology

It is common knowledge that males experience increased severity in viral infections than females. But as to why, it remains to be a mystery until the discovery made by researchers from the University of California- Los Angeles Health Sciences. The answer lies in UTX, an X-chromosome-linked gene and epigenetic regulator that boosts the activity of natural killer (NK) cells which are specialized antiviral immune cells.

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Although males have more NK cells than females, the increased number wasn’t protective during viral infections. In their study, the UCLA researchers found that female mouse and human NK cells contain an extra copy of UTX. Females have more UTX in their NK cells than males and this gives them the ability to fight viral infections more efficiently. This was true whether or not the mice had gonads, meaning that the observed trait was not linked to any hormone. Moreover, female mice with more NK cells but exhibited lower UTX expression were not as capable of controlling viral infection.

According to Mandy Cheng, study’s lead author, the UTX as a crucial determinant of sex differences in NK cells suggests that therapies involving immune responses should approach the precision medicine model. Personalized medicine allows tailoring of treatments, taking into account people’s individual differences that influence health and disease risk.

The incorporation of sex as a biological factor in treatment decisions is necessary in determining the appropriate immunotherapy design.

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