Last updated December 11, 2017 at 11:15 am
Women are more likely to have asthma than men, thanks to the effect of sex hormones on lung cells. Researchers found that testosterone prevented cells associated with asthma from increasing in number and producing proteins that trigger asthma symptoms.
Previous studies suggest that there is a difference in the likeliness of asthma depending on gender. This suggests there is a possible role for sex hormones in asthma.
In a new study published this week, researchers focused on a special group of cells called Group 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2), which play an important role in allergic responses.
They are more prevalent in asthma sufferers than in healthy people, and now the researchers found that women with asthma have more ILC2 in their blood than men with asthma. When triggered, they produce certain cytokines, proteins that cause mucus production and inflammation in the lungs.
The researchers used a mouse model to further study the impact of sex hormones on asthma. They compared male and female mice as well as male and female mice that had their gonads removed. This allowed them to essentially study the effect of ovarian hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, as well as testosterone.
Testosterone was shown to decrease inflammation in male mice, compared to female mice and the gonadectomised male mice. The researchers also showed that ILC2 was decreased in the male mice compared to the female and gonadectomised male mice. Their experiments also showed that testosterone could impact on the production of inflammation-inducing cytokines.
“I was surprised to see that testosterone was more important in reducing inflammation,” says senior author Dawn Newcomb, of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“Sex hormones are not the only mechanism but, rather, one of many mechanisms that could be regulating airway inflammation,” she says.
The researchers hope to take the studies further to determine the effects of sex hormones, as well as other cell types involved in the asthmatic inflammation response.
Understanding the role of sex hormones would not only provide new targets for medicine but it could also impact the design of future clinical trials for asthma.
The research was published in Cell Reports.