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Cell renewal : differences found between males and females

In organs that are not part of the reproductive system, it is often assumed that there are no significant differences between the sexes. The team of Dr. Andreas Schedl, Inserm senior researcher at the Valrose Biology Institute has highlighted major differences between males and females in the cell renewal of the adrenal gland. Their work published on May 16, 2019 in the Cell Stem Cell journal shows that a population of stem cells that are specific to adult females contribute to this process.

Publication : 04/07/2019
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It is now well established that a large number of organs are constantly being renewed by means of stem cell populations, which ensures their proper functioning throughout adult life. The adrenal gland follows this mode of natural renewal, but the processes involved remained to be discovered. The adrenal gland secretes hormones that regulate vital functions such as blood pressure, immune response or stress.

Optimal functioning of this organ is therefore essential to keep the body functioning properly. The laboratory of Andreas Schedl (iBV, Nice) has just demonstrated that the cells of the adrenal gland are subject to constant renewal to such an extent that the gland is completely renewed in a few months. Surprisingly, this renewal depends on the sex of the individual and occurs three times faster in females than in males. This sexual dimorphism is not only due to a much higher rate of cell division, but also to the higher population of stem cells in females. In keeping with these differences between males and females, the proliferation and recruitment of stem cells are inhibited by the male sex hormones produced by the testes.

These results have a number of important implications for medical research. First, this study demonstrates that organs long considered identical between men and women can show profound differences between the two sexes, particularly as regards stem cell behavior. This article emphasizes the importance of studying biological processes in both sexes, a concept long neglected by researchers and pharmaceutical groups. Second, this study may explain why women are more likely to develop adrenal diseases. Certain types of cancer of this organ are up to six times more common in women than in men. The increased cell renewal observed in females could be at the origin of this remarkable sexual bias. Finally, the fact that the difference in the rate of renewal is determined by hormones could also present interesting possibilities for developing new treatments for adrenal diseases.