Genetic alterations are known drivers of autoimmune disease; however, there is a much higher incidence of autoimmunity in women, implicating sex-specific factors in disease development. The autoimmune regulator (AIRE) gene contributes to the maintenance of central tolerance, and complete loss of AIRE function results in the development of autoimmune polyendocrinopathy syndrome type 1. In this issue of the JCI, Dragin and colleagues demonstrate that AIRE expression is downregulated in females as the result of estrogen-mediated alterations at the AIRE promoter. The association between estrogen and reduction of AIRE may at least partially account for the elevated incidence of autoimmune disease in women and has potential implications for sex hormone therapy.
Pearl Bakhru, Maureen A. Su