Differential effects of sex steroids on T and B cells: modulation of cell cycle phase distribution, apoptosis and bcl-2 protein levels

Pathobiology. 2001;69(1):44-58. doi: 10.1159/000048757.


Sex steroids have dramatic and differential effects on classic endocrine organ proliferation and apoptosis. In this investigation we sought to delineate similar effects of sex steroids on proliferation, cell cycle phase and apoptosis in lymphocyte cell lines as models for T and B cells. Estrogen and testosterone inhibited T cell line proliferation, induced accumulation of cells in S/G(2)M phases of the cell cycle, and increased apoptosis in a concentration- and time-dependent manner. There was a more modest effect of estrogen and testosterone on cell cycling and apoptosis in B lymphocyte cell lines, suggesting that estrogen and testosterone are inhibitory to T but not B cell lines. In comparison, progesterone induced cytostasis and modestly increased apoptosis in both T and B cell lines. Estrogen and testosterone were not antagonistic or synergistic to each other in their effects on cell cycle phase distribution, and only minimally synergistic for apoptosis. In contrast, progesterone antagonized cell cycle and apoptotic effects of estrogen in T cells. Estrogen-induced cell cycle and apoptotic effects in T cell lines were associated with suppression of bcl-2 protein levels, which were unaffected in Raji B cells. Progesterone also antagonized the estrogen-induced changes in T cell bcl-2 protein levels. These results suggest that there may be significant and differential sex steroid effects on T and B lymphocytes that may be important to sexual dichotomies in immune and autoimmune responses.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • B-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • B-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • B-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • Estrogens / pharmacology
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Progesterone / pharmacology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / analysis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism*
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Testosterone / pharmacology


  • Estrogens
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Testosterone
  • Progesterone