Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

Funded Research

Sex and Central Nervous System Autoimmunity

Year Awarded: 2016

Term: 3 years

Funding Amount: $346,896

Affiliation(s): St. Michael’s Hospital

Province(s): Ontario

Researcher(s): Dr. Shannon Dunn

Research Priorities: Cause of MS

Impact Goal(s): Understand and Halt Disease Progression

Affiliation: Toronto General Research Institute 


  • One of the top risk factors for multiple sclerosis (MS) development is being female. Women outnumber men with this disease by 3-fold, and the reason is still unknown.
  • There is a need to better understand the fundamental biological differences that account for the greater susceptibility of females to develop MS compared to males.
  • The research team will:
    • Investigate whether immune cells obtained from patients show sex differences in the production of certain inflammatory molecules.
    • Conduct studies in animal models of MS to better understand potential underlying mechanisms for sex differences in the immune response.

Project Description:

MS affects three times more women than men. The reasons for this sex difference in MS incidence are still unknown. There is evidence showing that the immune response is more vigorous in women than men, which would explain why an autoimmune attack on myelin is more likely to happen in women. Dr. Dunn’s research team plans to explore this idea further. Her lab has already revealed that an inflammatory factor called interferon gamma (IFN-γ) is released in female, but not male rodents. The team will attempt to expand on this finding to people with MS and determine if women have more active immune systems that attack myelin than those in males.

Potential Impact: Understanding the biology of the sex difference will lead to an increased appreciation of the underlying disease mechanisms in MS, which has the potential to lead to the development of new MS therapies.

Project Status: In Progress

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