It has been proposed that homeostatic levels of estrogen can enhance female susceptibility to autoimmunity, whereas the heightened levels of estrogen associated with pregnancy are protective. This hypothesis was tested using the mouse model of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). Diestrus (<10 pg/ml in serum) levels of 17β-estradiol were found to significantly reduce the clinical manifestations of active EAE in both male and female mice. Estriol was also effective but at doses below those previously established for pregnancy. The reduction in disease severity was accompanied by a coincident reduction in the number and size of inflammatory foci in the CNS of estrogen (17β-estradiol or estriol)-treated mice. Recipients of encephalitogenic T cells from low-dose estrogen-treated mice developed less severe paralysis than mice receiving T cells from placebo-treated mice. A modest shift in Th1/Th2 balance suggested that low dose estrogen therapy could bias the immune reaction toward a protective anti-inflammatory cytokine response. However, estrogen treatment at the onset of active EAE failed to reduce disease severity, a result that is consistent with the hypothesis that naive cells are more sensitive to sex hormones than differentiated effector cells. These data suggest that treatment with low doses of estrogen can reduce the capacity of developing myelin-reactive T cells to initiate disease and challenges the idea that increased susceptibility to autoimmunity in females is dependent on homeostatic levels of estrogen.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy