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Exploring how gender affects the immune system

Exploring how gender affects the immune system

man_coldA piece published today on Slate examines how sex hormones, like estrogen and testosterone, may impact the strength of men and women’s immune systems. As noted in the article, recent research from Stanford immunologist Mark Davis, PhD, who directs Stanford’s Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection, and his colleagues offers new insights on the issue:

… it’s been difficult to establish any direct link between levels of sex hormones circulating in the blood and the performance of men’s and women’s immune systems.

Recent research is now beginning to firmly establish that link. This month, a team of scientists at Stanford University has reported some of the best evidence yet that testosterone directly influences immune system function in men. The researchers took blood samples from male and female volunteers who were given a flu shot. Women had higher levels of immune system molecules circulating in their blood than men, and they produced more effective antibodies against the flu virus. And there were not only differences between men and women, but there were differences among men—the men with the weakest response to the flu shot had high levels of both testosterone and testosterone-induced enzymes, suggesting that high levels of testosterone can suppress immunity.

This finding that testosterone may dial down the immune system in humans is consistent with the results of studies of other animals, ranging from fish to chimps.

For more details on the study and why high testosterone may provide a less obvious evolutionary advantage, read this December Scope post from my colleague Bruce Goldman.

Previously: In men, a high testosterone count can mean a low immune responseAdults’ immune systems “remember” microscopic monsters they’ve seen beforeImmunology escapes from the mouse trap and Immunology meets infotech
Photo by Iain Farrell

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