The X-linked epigenetic regulator UTX controls NK cell-intrinsic sex differences

Nat Immunol. 2023 May;24(5):780-791. doi: 10.1038/s41590-023-01463-8. Epub 2023 Mar 16.


Viral infection outcomes are sex biased, with males generally more susceptible than females. Paradoxically, the numbers of antiviral natural killer (NK) cells are increased in males. We demonstrate that while numbers of NK cells are increased in male mice, they display decreased effector function compared to females in mice and humans. These differences were not solely dependent on gonadal hormones, because they persisted in gonadectomized mice. Kdm6a (which encodes the protein UTX), an epigenetic regulator that escapes X inactivation, was lower in male NK cells, while NK cell-intrinsic UTX deficiency in female mice increased NK cell numbers and reduced effector responses. Furthermore, mice with NK cell-intrinsic UTX deficiency showed increased lethality to mouse cytomegalovirus. Integrative multi-omics analysis revealed a critical role for UTX in regulating chromatin accessibility and gene expression critical for NK cell homeostasis and effector function. Collectively, these data implicate UTX as a critical molecular determinant of sex differences in NK cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Genes, X-Linked*
  • Histone Demethylases / genetics
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Utx protein, mouse
  • Histone Demethylases