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Has Research Proven MS is More Common in Women?

August 12, 2015

Researchers may have actually proven that women are more likely to be developing autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. While lab accidents don’t necessarily sound like a good thing, sometimes, they can lead to new discoveries.

Northwestern University researchers accidently used male mice in an experiment instead of female mice. This then led to the discovery that a type of white blood cell, the innate lymphoid cell, shows differences in immune activities in males versus females.

When observing their symptoms, the mouse model of MS that was induced into the small animals caused 100 percent of the female mice to get sick. The differences that caused the researchers to pause was that the male mice either did not get sick or had experienced lesser symptoms than the female mice. This is why all female mice are typically used when studying autoimmune diseases.

 “Women are three to four times more likely than men to develop MS,” explained lead author of the study, Melissa Brown, PhD, in a press release. She said a large amount of current research is focusing on the question of why females experience worse disease and why males are protected from the disease.

This is not the first study involving sex differences in the field of MS research. In the 1990's, it was found by scientists that testosterone was a proactive hormone for women with MS. Although, using testosterone for long-term treatment of MS was not a viable option due to its undesirable side effects.

While type 2 innate lymphoid cells have been thoroughly studied in allergy because they’re thought to promote allergic inflammation, this is the first study to show these cells actually exhibit sex differences in their activity. It is also shows that they can actually protect in autoimmune disease.


Scientists are hoping to find clues that could explain activators of the cells and if they would be able to be used in therapy. These findings have the potential to lead to a new approach to drug therapy that modulates instead of suppressing the immune system in MS patients.