Estrogens may weaken flu virus in women

This new study was published on the American Journal of Physiology – Lung cellular and Molecular Physiology and led by Sabra Klein.

shutterstock_41099986The flu, a disease we are all familiar with, is an infectious disease caused by an influenza virus. Viruses make us ill when they invade our cells and use their machinery to make copies of themselves. The copies spread to other cells, setting up a chain reaction that leads to disease and also infection of other people. The most common symptoms include a high fever, runny nose, sore throat, muscle pain, headache, coughing and weakness. However, there is a big variation in the severity of the disease between people. This study may explain why the flu appears to hit men harder than women.

In this study, the effect of the female sex hormone estrogen was tested on the influenza virus. The tests were carried out on nasal cells taken from men and women, the cells that the virus primarily infects. The cells were cultured and then exposed to the flu virus and to various forms of estrogen, including estradiol, bisphenol A and selective estrogen receptor modulators. The results showed that all forms of estrogen reduced viral replication in the female nasal cells, but not in the male nasal cells. This study also discovered that the estrogens exerted their antiviral effects through the estrogen receptor beta and this brings the research closer to understanding the mechanisms mediating this conserved antiviral effect of estrogens. The finding that therapeutic estrogens may protect against the flu virus could possibly lead to a new protective measure against the flu.

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