Why men are at higher risk from COVID-19

Feb. 13, 2023
Researchers from Osaka University provide cellular evidence for the observed differences between the response to COVID-19 infection in males and females.

COVID-19 has had a huge global impact since the initial outbreak in 2019. Men and women show different responses to this disease, with men having a higher risk from infection. The underlying cellular basis for this difference is not fully understood, but now a research group from Osaka University have uncovered sex-specific differences in a type of immune cell called regulatory T cells, or “Treg cells”, and in the production of proteins called antibodies, as part of the response to COVID-19 infection.

The team used an approach known as single-cell proteomics by mass spectrometry, allowing individual immune cells to be identified and analyzed. This showed that patients with COVID-19 have changes to the ratio between circulating Tfr cells and a network of other cells associated with the production of antibodies, which in turn is strongly correlated with the antibody levels. A sex bias was seen in this response, with females having more circulating Tfr cells while males had higher antibody levels.

The identification of this cellular basis for the known sex-specific differences will be key in protecting everyone, especially those most at risk, from COVID-19 infection.

Osaka University release on Newswise