Men’s cells die under particular conditions of stress while women’s cells resist and survive, according to a new study from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS).
The study, published in the Cell Death and Disease journal, was conducted by ISS researchers and scientists from the University of Bologna and the Rome-based National research Council (CNR). “In general,” explained Paola Matarrese of the Iss, “male cells (XY) respond to stress with programmed death (apoptosis), a form of regulated cell death; while female cells (XX), in response to the same stress, activate survival mechanisms (autophagia) and stave off cell death”.
Sex dimorphism in cell response to stress has previously been investigated by different research groups. This dimorphism could be at least in part accounted for by sex-biased expression of regulatory elements such as microRNAs (miRs). In order to spot previously unknown miR expression differences we took advantage of prior knowledge on specialized databases to identify X chromosome-encoded miRs potentially escaping X chromosome inactivation (XCI). MiR-548am-5p emerged as potentially XCI escaper and was experimentally verified to be significantly up-regulated in human XX primary dermal fibroblasts (DFs) compared to XY ones. Accordingly, miR-548am-5p target mRNAs, e.g. the transcript for Bax, was differently modulated in XX and XY DFs. Functional analyses indicated that XY DFs were more prone to mitochondria-mediated apoptosis than XX ones. Experimentally induced overexpression of miR548am-5p in XY cells by lentivirus vector transduction decreased apoptosis susceptibility, whereas its down-regulation in XX cells enhanced apoptosis susceptibility. These data indicate that this approach could be used to identify previously unreported sex-biased differences in miR expression and that a miR identified with this approach, miR548am-5p, can account for sex-dependent differences observed in the susceptibility to mitochondrial apoptosis of human DFs.