Home Others How does the female immune system benefit because of an extra X chromosome?

How does the female immune system benefit because of an extra X chromosome?

by Coffee Table Science

We have known the presence of two X chromosomes to help differentiate the sex of most animals. Still, studies have continuously proven that having an extra X chromosome gives immunological benefits to females. X chromosomes are 5 times larger than the Y chromosomes and have 10 times more genes linked to them than Y chromosomes. This makes an X chromosome genetically superior.

A recent study has revealed that the extra X chromosome might be the reason why viral infections are less severe in females.


A team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have found out that the female mouse and human natural killer (NK) cells have an additional copy of the X chromosome-linked gene. NK cells are known to be antiviral immune cells, they are innate immunity cells. NK cells represent the first line of defence against viral infections.


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How does the X chromosome help women fight against viral infections?

Men are known to have more NK cells as compared to women, but they were not able to protect men from viral infections. The study has revealed that NK cells in women have more UTX, which is found to be present on the X chromosome. Ubiquitously transcribed tetratricopeptide repeat, X chromosome (UTX), works as an epigenetic regulator. These regulators are capable of erasing modifications to DNA. UTX boosts the anti-viral tendencies of the NK cells. This is why a female’s immune system can fight viral infections more effectively than a male’s immune system.

Dr Maureen Su is a professor of microbiology immunology and molecular genetics, and paediatrics at UCLA and was the co-senior author of the research. The researchers made sure that the trait was not linked to hormones as they were observable even after removing the gonads of the mice. Female mice who had lower dominance of UTX genes had a large number of NK cells, but they were not as effective in fighting the infection.

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What parameters should be considered while providing treatment?

Since a male body lacks the extra pair of X chromosomes, therapies need to be more people-oriented rather than a standard medicinal plan for everyone. Genes, surroundings and other factors responsible for health problems need to be taken care of while suggesting a treatment. Since male and female bodies work differently genetically and hormonally, the sex of the person also needs to be a parameter to consider while planning the treatment. 


One of the reasons why we don’t have gender-biased medicines is that carrying out a medicine trial on various body types based on gender, age and environment will be costlier. Since the X chromosome is larger and has more genes linked to it, having an extra X chromosome gives females the upper hand. Female chromosomes also can be a disease carrier, which won’t affect the female herself if the disease is linked only to one of the X chromosomes but can prove to be deadly to a man. Hence, more consideration needs to be given while manufacturing medicine.

The study was published in the Nature Immunology Journal.

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