Leading the way to a cure

Lupus Research Update: 2012 Volume 2

Volume 2, 2012 - Online Edition | In This Issue

The Science Behind Lupus in Men >
Treating Lupus and Men: From an Expert's Perspective >
Faces of Lupus >

The Science Behind Lupus in Men

When people hear the word lupus, they most often think of the disease in terms of women — and with good reason. Ninety percent of those diagnosed with lupus are female.

But perhaps because the disease itself is shrouded in mystery, a lot of misinformation exists about lupus — including the notion that men are somehow immune to it.

In recent years, "lupus in men" is garnering more attention than ever before — both in terms of treatment and research.

At the forefront of scientific inquiry on this topic is Dr. Betty Tsao, Professor of Medicine of the Department of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology at the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles. For more than 20 years, Dr. Tsao and her teams of scientists and technicians have worked on numerous investigations aimed at unlocking the disease at the molecular level. In fact, Dr. Tsao was one of the principal investigators in the Alliance for Lupus Research (ALR)-funded SLEGEN initiative, which discovered the first known genetic markers for lupus.

But it was in 2006 that Dr. Tsao decided to focus her attention on lupus in men. "I was inspired by new work that was being conducted on the Y chromosome accelerator of autoimmunity then — and thought that the X chromosome might be a contributing factor to lupus in men," said Dr. Tsao.

Currently, Dr. Tsao's research focuses on the identification of human chromosomal regions containing susceptibility genes for lupus. Dr. Tsao and many other experts contend that genetic susceptibility is the single greatest risk for lupus.

The gene linked to lupus in men — and women — is Toll Like Receptor 7 (TLR7). Dr. Tsao has found that a variant form of TLR7 increases the risk of developing lupus — especially in men. "Now that we know the sex-specific genetic contributions to lupus, we can proceed to find more targeted therapies," Dr. Tsao added.

Speaking in general terms, Dr. Tsao believes that men require more lupus genes to develop symptoms of the disease. Her argument is that female sex hormones (primarily estrogen and progesterone) accelerate the immune response. With the absence of female sex hormones, something else has to be present to trigger the disease. "Basically, I am thinking there is a threshold effect, men may need more genetic burdens or more environmental factors/triggers to manifest the disease symptoms," she contends.

Dr. Tsao offers another interesting way of looking at the differences between the sexes and the hormonal factor that predisposes women to the disease in general: "But only in adults. In children, before the development of sex hormones, the gender ratio is not so pronounced as compared to adults."

The number of lupus investigations that focus on men is still very limited — making Dr. Tsao's discovery and continued work all the more important. In recognition of her extraordinary contributions opening up new pathways in lupus research, Kenneth M. Farber, ALR President, said "Betty is a uniquely gifted researcher. Her work confirming a connection with TLR7 and lupus in men has jumpstarted the imaginations of investigators to target specific therapies for men with the disease. And her work as a principal investigator on the ALR-funded SLEGEN project has taken lupus research a giant step forward."

In speaking about ALR and the SLEGEN initiative, Dr. Tsao offered her perspective: "I can't say enough good things about the ALR. It played an instrumental role in bringing together this effort, which has fostered so many new discoveries. This is just the beginning. I think there are many more new insights that we’re going to learn from the ALR's efforts."

Betty Tsao, PhD. is Professor of Medicine of the Department of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology at the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from the National Taiwan University, her Master of Science degree from Southern Illinois University and Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Pittsburgh. She has served on numerous medical advisory boards and is a member of the American College of Rheumatology.

1.5 million

people in the U.S. have Lupus.

172 million

dollars committed to lupus research by the Lupus Research Alliance.

We're walking across the United States to raise awareness and funds for lupus research.


Show your support by visiting the Lupus Research Alliance online store. Discover the perfect gift, or prepare for a walk with our selection of apparel and accessories.

Powered by Blackbaud
nonprofit software