This proposal is a new direction for my laboratory, which is to define developmental origins of sex differences in susceptibility to multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is an autoimmune, demyelinating disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that has a strong sex bias, with the female to male ratio currently approaching 4:1. Relapsing- remitting MS RRMS, the most common form of the disease in women, is a condition in which recurrent episodes of new neurological dysfunction (relapses) are separated by periods of clinical stability (remission). The SJL strain of mice is a standard model for examining sex differences in MS, as it exhibits a similar sex bias in susceptibility and RREAE in female animals. In published studies we showed that cell intrinsic sex differences in the expression of the sphingosine 1-phosphate receptor 2 (S1PR2) on central nervous system (CNS) vasculature of SJL mice regulates endothelial cell polarity by destabilizing adherens junctions and contributes to the development of disease cycles in females compared with males. Not yet defined is how the process of normal sexual differentiation patterns activity in pathways that regulate blood-brain barrier (BBB) stability. In this proposal we will use sex differences in S1PR2 expression to develop approaches that will uncover molecular mechanisms that regulate sex differences in BBB biology. Because evidence suggests that acute effects of estrogens are not responsible for sex differences in RRMS and in S1PR2 expression, the focus of this proposal is the role of sex chromosome complement and the organizational effects of sex hormones on sex differences in S1PR2 expression at the BBB. We hypothesize that sex differences in endothelial cell expression of S1PR2 occur via organizational effects that occur during development. We further hypothesize that chromatin regulation establishes additional sex-specific effects through altered expression of genes involved in BBB function. In this proposal we will: 1) Determine whether sex-differences in S1PR2 expression occur via cell intrinsic endothelial cell alterations in gene expression; and 2) Determine whether sex chromosome complement and/or organizational effects of sex hormones underlie sex differences in BMEC S1PR2 expression. Our findings will define new interfaces between sexually dimorphic gene expression and BBB function, and may identify new strategies to treat disease in MS patients in a sex-specific fashion.

Public Health Relevance

In this proposal, we will test the hypotheses that organizational effects of sex steroids and chromatin regulation impact sex-specific T cell entry into the CNS via alterations in expression of genes that modulate BBB function, such as S1PR2. We will evaluate organizational and genetic effects of sex steroids on BBB function and define the role of chromosome complement in BBB integrity during CNS autoimmunity. These experiments will define new interfaces between mechanisms of sexually dimorphic gene expression and BBB regulation of T cell entry, and will be relevant for the development new strategies to modulate disease in MS patients in a sex-specific fashion.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Cellular and Molecular Biology of Glia Study Section (CMBG)
Program Officer
Utz, Ursula
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Washington University
Internal Medicine/Medicine
Schools of Medicine
Saint Louis
United States
Zip Code
Agner, Shannon C; Klein, Robyn S (2018) Viruses have multiple paths to central nervous system pathology. Curr Opin Neurol 31:313-317
Klein, Robyn S; Voskuhl, Rhonda; Segal, Benjamin M et al. (2017) Speaking out about gender imbalance in invited speakers improves diversity. Nat Immunol 18:475-478
Ghosh, Soumitra; Klein, Robyn S (2017) Sex Drives Dimorphic Immune Responses to Viral Infections. J Immunol 198:1782-1790