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Your Sex Affects Your Genes for Body Fat, Cancer, Birth Weight
  • Robert Preidt
  • Posted September 15, 2020

Your Sex Affects Your Genes for Body Fat, Cancer, Birth Weight

Researchers say your biological sex affects gene expression in nearly every type of tissue -- influencing body fat, cancer and birth weight.

Gene expression is the amount of product created by a gene for cell function, the international team of researchers explained.

They said their findings could prove important for personalized medicine, creating new drugs and predicting patient outcomes.

"These discoveries suggest the importance of considering sex as a biological variable in human genetics and genomics studies," said project leader Barbara Stranger, an associate professor of pharmacology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

The researchers analyzed 44 types of healthy human tissue from 838 people to find out if there were differences between women and men in the average amount of gene expression.

They discovered that 37% of all human genes were expressed at different levels in women and men in at least one type of tissue.

They also identified 369 instances where a genetic variant present in males and females affected gene expression to a different degree in each sex. This led to the discovery of 58 previously unreported links between genes and blood pressure, cholesterol levels, breast cancer and body fat percentage.

Gender differences in gene expression were also found for genes involved in how the body responds to medications, how women control blood sugar levels in pregnancy, how the immune system functions and how cancer develops.

"If specific genes or genetic variants contribute differentially to a given trait in males and females, it could suggest sex-specific biomarkers, therapeutics and drug dosing," Stranger said in a Northwestern news release.

"In the future, such knowledge may form a critical component of personalized medicine or may reveal disease biology that remains obscured when considering males and females as a single group," she said.

The study was published Sept. 10 in the journal Science.

More information

The American Society of Human Genetics has more on genetics.

SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, Sept. 10, 2020
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