A deep transcriptome meta-analysis reveals sex differences in multiple sclerosis

José Francisco Català-Senent, Zoraida Andreu, Marta R. Hidalgo, Irene Soler-Sáez, Francisco José Roig, Natalia Yanguas-Casás, Almudena Neva-Alejo, Adolfo López-Cerdán, María de la Iglesia-Vayá, Barbara E. Stranger, Francisco García-García*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic auto-immune, inflammatory, and degenerative disease of the central nervous system, affects both males and females; however, females suffer from a higher risk of developing MS (2–3:1 ratio relative to males). The precise sex-based factors influencing risk of MS are currently unknown. Here, we explore the role of sex in MS to identify molecular mechanisms underlying observed MS sex differences that may guide novel therapeutic approaches tailored for males or females. Methods: We performed a rigorous and systematic review of genome-wide transcriptome studies of MS that included patient sex data in the Gene Expression Omnibus and ArrayExpress databases following PRISMA statement guidelines. For each selected study, we analyzed differential gene expression to explore the impact of the disease in females (IDF), in males (IDM) and our main goal: the sex differential impact of the disease (SDID). Then, for each scenario (IDF, IDM and SDID) we performed 2 meta-analyses in the main tissues involved in the disease (brain and blood). Finally, we performed a gene set analysis in brain tissue, in which a higher number of genes were dysregulated, to characterize sex differences in biological pathways. Results: After screening 122 publications, the systematic review provided a selection of 9 studies (5 in blood and 4 in brain tissue) with a total of 474 samples (189 females with MS and 109 control females; 82 males with MS and 94 control males). Blood and brain tissue meta-analyses identified, respectively, 1 (KIR2DL3) and 13 (ARL17B, CECR7, CEP78, IFFO2, LOC401127, NUDT18, RNF10, SLC17A5, STMP1, TRAF3IP2-AS1, UBXN2B, ZNF117, ZNF488) MS-associated genes that differed between males and females (SDID comparison). Functional analyses in the brain revealed different altered immune patterns in females and males (IDF and IDM comparisons). The pro-inflammatory environment and innate immune responses related to myeloid lineage appear to be more affected in females, while adaptive responses associated with the lymphocyte lineage in males. Additionally, females with MS displayed alterations in mitochondrial respiratory chain complexes, purine, and glutamate metabolism, while MS males displayed alterations in stress response to metal ion, amine, and amino acid transport. Conclusion: We found transcriptomic and functional differences between MS males and MS females (especially in the immune system), which may support the development of new sex-based research of this disease. Our study highlights the importance of understanding the role of biological sex in MS to guide a more personalized medicine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106113
JournalNeurobiology of Disease
StatePublished - Jun 1 2023


  • Biomarkers
  • Functional profiling
  • Meta-analysis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Sex-based differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology


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