Women and autoimmune diseases

Emerg Infect Dis. 2004 Nov;10(11):2005-11. doi: 10.3201/eid1011.040367.


Autoimmune diseases affect approximately 8% of the population, 78% of whom are women. The reasons for the high prevalence in women are unknown, but circumstantial evidence links autoimmune diseases with preceding infections. Animal models of autoimmune diseases have shown that infections can induce autoimmune disease. For example, coxsackievirus B3 (CB3) infection of susceptible mice results in inflammation of the heart (myocarditis) that resembles myocarditis in humans. The same disease can be induced by injecting mice with heart proteins mixed with adjuvant(s), which indicates that an active infection is not necessary for the development of autoimmune disease. We have found that CB3 triggers autoimmune disease in susceptible mice by stimulating elevated levels of proinflammatory cytokines from mast cells during the innate immune response. Sex hormones may further amplify this hyperimmune response to infection in susceptible persons, which leads to an increased prevalence of autoimmune diseases in women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / microbiology*
  • Communicable Diseases / complications*
  • Enterovirus Infections / complications
  • Enterovirus Infections / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Myocarditis / virology
  • Sex Factors