The TLR-mediated response of plasmacytoid dendritic cells is positively regulated by estradiol in vivo through cell-intrinsic estrogen receptor α signaling

Blood. 2012 Jan 12;119(2):454-64. doi: 10.1182/blood-2011-08-371831. Epub 2011 Nov 16.


Plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) produce large amounts of type I interferons (IFN-α/β) in response to viral or endogenous nucleic acids through activation of their endosomal Toll-like receptors (TLR-7 and TLR-9). Enhanced TLR-7-mediated IFN-α production by pDCs in women, compared with men, has been reported, but whether sex hormones, such as estrogens, are involved in this sex-based difference is unknown. Here we show, in humanized mice, that the TLR-7-mediated response of human pDCs is increased in female host mice relative to male. In a clinical trial, we establish that treatment of postmenopausal women with 17β-estradiol markedly enhances TLR-7- and TLR-9-dependent production of IFN-α by pDCs stimulated by synthetic ligands or by nucleic acid-containing immune complexes. In mice, we found exogenous and endogenous estrogens to promote the TLR-mediated cytokine secretion by pDCs through hematopoietic expression of estrogen receptor (ER) α. Genetic ablation of ERα gene in the DC lineage abrogated the enhancing effect of 17β-estradiol on their TLR-mediated production of IFN-α, showing that estrogens directly target pDCs in vivo. Our results uncover a previously unappreciated role for estrogens in regulating the innate functions of pDCs, which may account for sex-based differences in autoimmune and infectious diseases.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Dendritic Cells / drug effects*
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology*
  • Dendritic Cells / metabolism
  • Estradiol / pharmacology*
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interferon Type I / metabolism
  • Interferon-alpha / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, SCID
  • Middle Aged
  • Postmenopause
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Toll-Like Receptor 7 / metabolism
  • Toll-Like Receptor 9 / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Cytokines
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Interferon Type I
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Toll-Like Receptor 7
  • Toll-Like Receptor 9
  • Estradiol