Researchers have found that there’s a big difference between the way that immune system genes are switched off and on in females and the way they’re regulated in males, and it seems to be environmental factors, not DNA, that’s driving the variation. The discovery could help explain why women are so much more susceptible to autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis than men.
Even though our genetic code contains lots of different genes, not all of these are ‘active’ all the time. “Some genes are virtually always on, like the clock light on a microwave; others sit unused for years at a time, like some regrettable appliance you bought, stuffed into the back of the closet and forgot. Some genes can be always on in one person and always off in another,” Jennie Dusheck wrote in a release for Stanford University in the US, where the research was conducted.
The study used a new technique called ATAC-seq, which for the first time ever provides scientists with the ability to study the molecules that regulate all that gene switching on and off. And it revealed that the process varies vastly between individuals – particularly between males and females.
“We were interested in exploring the landscape of gene regulation directly from live people and look at differences,” lead researcher Howard Chang told Dusheck. “We asked, ‘How different or similar are people?’ This is different from asking if they have the same genes.” Source: Women’s immune genes are regulated differently to men’s, study finds