Clinical evidence shows that males are more prone to illness than females. But no one is really sure why.

A new study by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and international collaborators — as part of the global Immunological Genome Project (ImmGen) — tackled this question by comparing the transcriptome of the immune system of female and male mice.

Until this study, all ImmGen studies focused on male mice. Prof. Tal Shay of BGU’s department of life sciences and her student Shani Gal-Oz profiled female mice — and discovered some significant differences they described in Nature Communications.

“Females might have an innate enhanced potential to withstand immune challenges due to more highly activated innate immune pathways prior to pathogen invasion. This female immune alertness, which makes females less vulnerable to infectious diseases, comes at the price of females being more prone to autoimmune diseases,” the researchers write.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences of Japan also participated in the study.

Funding was from a Broad-Israel Science Foundation grant, an Israel Science Foundation grant and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the US National Institutes of Health.