Estrogen is thought to contribute to the increased frequency of autoimmune disorders occurring in females, but a molecular basis for its effects on autoimmunity remains to be elucidated. We have shown previously that estrogen leads to the survival and activation of autoreactive cells in the naive repertoire. To identify the molecular pathways involved in B cell tolerance, we sought to identify genes that are differentially regulated by estrogen in mouse B cells. Several genes involved in B cell activation and survival, including cd22, shp-1, bcl-2, and vcam-1, were upregulated by estrogen in B cells. We found that overexpression of CD22 and SHP-1 in B cells decreased B cell receptor signaling. Estrogen receptors α and β are expressed on B cells and are functional, since they can directly upregulate expression of CD22, SHP-1, and Bcl-2. Estrogen treatment protected isolated primary B cells from B cell receptor–mediated apoptosis. These results suggest that estrogen induces a genetic program that alters survival and activation of B cells in a B cell–autonomous fashion and thus skews the naive immune system toward autoreactivity.
Christine M. Grimaldi, James Cleary, A. Selma Dagtas, Dariush Moussai, Betty Diamond