Sex differences in immune responses are well-recognized, with females being less susceptible to infection, but 10X more likely to develop autoimmune disease than males. The involvement of individual sex-specific factors, including: sex hormones, sex chromosome complements and microbiomes, have been identified. However, there is a critical gap in our understanding of the mechanisms by which these factors mediate sex-specific responses. In addition, it is not known if or how these factors interact to regulate the overall responsiveness of the male vs. female immune systems. The current proposal will test whether gut microbiome metabolites, specifically short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), induce sex-specific responses by promoting the bi-allelic expression of X-linked immune-related genes in females. Most previous microbiome studies have focused on identifying sex-specific microbiome populations with distinct metabolic capabilities to explain sexually dimorphic responses. However, our preliminary data suggests that similar levels of SCFAs can differentially regulate humoral immune responses in a manner that is XX-dependent. We hypothesize that SCFAs contribute to sexually dimorphic immune responses by utilizing epigenetic regulatory mechanisms to differentially influence immune-related gene expression in an XX vs. XY- dependent manner. This hypotheses will be addressed in two Specific Aims.
Specific Aim 1 will determine if SCFA-mediated HDAC inhibition increases B cell activation by promoting the bi-allelic expression of X-linked immune-related genes.
Specific Aim 2 will evaluate the potential for SCFAs to enhance humoral immune responses to heat-killed Streptococcus pneumoniae (HKSP)-immunization in an XX-dependent manner. By defining the underlying mechanisms that contribute to sex-specific response, the proposed research will contribute to the development of better treatment strategies to combat sex-biased autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, and improved vaccine efficacies. These studies are also relevant as gut microbiome metabolites are being marketed as potential immuno-therapeutics, due to their immunomodulatory activities. Prebiotics, probiotics and SCFA supplements are readily available over-the-counter, and most recently, SCFAs have been proposed as treatments for several immune-related disorders. However, few studies have investigated the potential for these compounds to exert sex-specific immune effects and, to our knowledge, no previous study has addressed the possibility that such effects may occur in a sex chromosome complement-dependent manner.

Public Health Relevance

Previous studies have focused on identifying sex-specific microbiome populations with distinct metabolic capabilities to explain sexual dimorphic immunity. The goal of this project is to determine if short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), the metabolic end-products of bacterial dietary fermentation, differentially influence immune cell activation in a sex chromosome complement (XX vs. XY) dependent manner, irrespective of sex hormones or gut microbiome composition. Defining the mechanisms by which immune sexual dimorphisms are mediated will lead to the development of improved therapies to combat sex-biased autoimmune and inflammatory diseases and more effective vaccination strategies.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Cellular and Molecular Immunology - B Study Section (CMIB)
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Ferguson, Stacy E
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West Virginia University
Schools of Medicine
United States
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