Gut Microbes Drive Gender Bias In Autoimmune Diseases

Escherichia coli, one of the many species of bacteria present in the human gut (via Wikipedia)

Escherichia coli, one of the many species of bacteria present in the human gut (via Wikipedia)

There’s a growing awareness of the role intestinal bacteria play in the development of disease and our general health. New research by University of Chicago professor of pathology Alexander Chervonsky, MD, PhD, shows that these gut microbes also drive gender bias in autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes and lupus, which disproportionately affect women. Kevin Jiang has more on Chervonsky’s work in our Newsroom:

Alexander Chervonsky, MD, PhD

To shed light on this mechanism, Alexander Chervonsky, MD, PhD, professor of pathology at the University of Chicago, studied a mouse model of type 1 diabetes, a disease in which immune cells attack healthy islet cells — insulin-producing cells found in the pancreas. In these mice, the incidence of type 1 diabetes is 1.4 to 4.4 times higher in females than in males …

… “Taken together, our research shows that to establish protection against type 1 diabetes in male mice, both male hormones and bacterial influence are needed,” Chervonsky said.

Chervonsky is one of many researchers at the University of Chicago studying the microbiome’s impact on the body. Cathryn Nagler is working to understand the development of food allergies. Eugene Chang is researching how the high-fat Western diet shapes gut bacteria to lead to more inflammatory bowel disease, and Stacy Kahn is using fecal transplants to treat recurrent c.diff infections by replacing a patient’s gut bacteria with a healthy one. In May they joined a number of other researchers and physicians at an event to talk about the vital role these bacteria play in our health and well-being.

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Yurkovetskiy L., Burrows M., Khan A., Graham L., Volchkov P., Becker L., Antonopoulos D., Umesaki Y. & Chervonsky A. (2013). Gender Bias in Autoimmunity Is Influenced by Microbiota, Immunity, 39 (2) 400-412. DOI:

About Matt Wood (514 Articles)

Matt Wood is a senior science writer at the University of Chicago Medicine and nonfiction editor for Another Chicago Magazine.

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