The greater immune reactivity of females has been attributed in part to the influence of sex steroid hormones, but the underlying mechanisms are unknown. Here we report evidence that expression of the IFN-gamma gene may be subject to direct hormonal control. In a transient expression assay, the sex steroid 17 beta-estradiol markedly increases activity of the IFN-gamma promoter in lymphoid cells that express the appropriate hormone receptor. This effect is mediated by sequences in the 5'-flanking region of the gene, and can augment the effect of T cell-activating agents. Short term exposure to estradiol also increases IFN-gamma mRNA expression in Con A-treated murine spleen cells. Hormonal regulation of this pleiotropic cytokine may account in part for the ability of estrogen to potentiate many types of immune responses, and for the disproportionate susceptibility of females to autoimmune disease.

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