The effect of sex on immune responses to a homocitrullinated peptide in the DR4-transgenic mouse model of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Cairns E, Saunders S, Bell DA, Blackler G, Lac P, Barra L. J Transl Autoimmun. 2020 Apr 10;3:100053.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is more common and severe in women compared to men. Both women and men with RA express autoantibodies to post-translationally modified antigens, including citrullinated and homocitrullinated proteins or peptides. These autoantibodies are strongly linked with the HLA-DR4 gene. The objective of this study was to determine sex differences in immune responses to homocitrullinated antigens. We used a humanized animal model of RA, DR4-transgenic mice and immunized them with a homocitrullinated peptide called HomoCitJED. Immune responses in these mice were measured for splenocyte proliferation by tritiated thymidine incorporation, serum autoantibody production by ELISA and cytokine levels by multiplex. We found that T cell and antibody responses to homocitrullinated antigens were similar in male and female mice. However, we found sex differences in serum cytokine profiles with female mice having higher ratio of IL-1α to IL-5, suggesting imbalances in immune regulation. This is the first study to report that immune responses to homocitrullinated antigens can be differentiated by sex.

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