Background: Many disease aetiologies have sex specific effects, which have important implications for disease management. It is now becoming increasingly evident that such effects are the result of the differential expression of autosomal genes rather than sex-specific genes. Such sex-specific variation in the response to Trichuris muris, a murine parasitic nematode infection and model for the human parasitic nematode T. trichiura, has been well documented, however, the underlying genetic causes of these differences have been largely neglected. We used the BXD mouse set of recombinant inbred strains to identify sex-specific loci that contribute to immune phenotypes in T. muris infection.
Results: Response phenotypes to T. muris infection were found to be highly variable between different lines of BXD mice. A significant QTL on chromosome 5 (TM5) associated with IFN-γ production was found in male mice but not in female mice. This QTL was in the same location as a suggestive QTL for TNF-α and IL-6 production in male mice suggesting a common control of these pro-inflammatory cytokines. A second QTL was identified on chromosome 4 (TM4) affecting worm burden in both male and female cohorts. We have identified several genes as potential candidates for modifying responses to T. muris infection.
Conclusions: We have used the largest mammalian genetic model system, the BXD mouse population, to identify candidate genes with sex-specific effects in immune responses to T. muris infection. Some of these genes may be differentially expressed in male and female mice leading to the difference in immune response between the sexes reported in previous studies. Our study further highlights the importance of considering sex as an important factor in investigations of immune response at the genome-wide level, in particular the bias that can be introduced when generalizing results obtained from only one sex or a mixed sex population. Rather, analyses of interaction effects between sex and genotype should be part of future studies.