Sex differences in neutrophil biology modulate response to type I interferons and immunometabolism

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jul 14;117(28):16481-16491. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2003603117. Epub 2020 Jun 29.


Differences between female and male immunity may contribute to variations in response to infections and predisposition to autoimmunity. We previously reported that neutrophils from reproductive-age males are more immature and less activated than their female counterparts. To further characterize the mechanisms that drive differential neutrophil phenotypes, we performed RNA sequencing on circulating neutrophils from healthy adult females and males. Female neutrophils displayed significant up-regulation of type I IFN (IFN)-stimulated genes (ISGs). Single-cell RNA-sequencing analysis indicated that these differences are neutrophil specific, driven by a distinct neutrophil subset and related to maturation status. Neutrophil hyperresponsiveness to type I IFNs promoted enhanced responses to Toll-like receptor agonists. Neutrophils from young adult males had significantly increased mitochondrial metabolism compared to those from females and this was modulated by estradiol. Assessment of ISGs and neutrophil maturation genes in Klinefelter syndrome (47, XXY) males and in prepubescent children supported that differences in neutrophil phenotype between adult male and female neutrophils are hormonally driven and not explained by X chromosome gene dosage. Our results indicate that there are distinct sex differences in neutrophil biology related to responses to type I IFNs, immunometabolism, and maturation status that may have prominent functional and pathogenic implications.

Keywords: innate immunity; interferons; neutrophils; sex differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Interferon Type I / genetics
  • Interferon Type I / immunology*
  • Interferon Type I / metabolism
  • Klinefelter Syndrome / genetics
  • Klinefelter Syndrome / immunology
  • Klinefelter Syndrome / metabolism
  • Male
  • Neutrophils / immunology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Interferon Type I