Gender-specific differences in the progression of rheumatoid arthritis discovered

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease characterised by chronic joint inflammation that leads to functional impairment in many sufferers. There are gender-specific differences in the emergence and development of this disease. Researchers at the Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors in Dortmund (IfADo) have therefore examined the role of the neurotransmitter dopamine in rheumatoid arthritis with particular reference to gender differences. The results point to gender-specific differences in the dopamine-regulated signalling pathway in B cells, whereby dopamine may even have a pro-inflammatory effect in women.

Sample analysis

Prof. Dr. Silvia Capellino’s group has identified involvement of the dopamine-regulated signalling pathway in B cells. This influence on immune cells of RA patients is gender-specific. The observed bifurcation of the dopamine-regulated signalling pathway between male and female RA patients can be used for therapeutic approaches in women in the future.

The influence of dopamine on certain cells of the immune system and thus on the course and development of rheumatoid arthritis discovered in the studies correlated with the duration of the disease and the functional disability in the female RA patients. Based on these findings, a diagnostic marker can be used in women.

Dopamine influences immunity

Women get rheumatoid arthritis more often than men. Not only the frequency, but also the progression of the disease differs between men and women. One possible explanation for this is the different role of sex hormones in immune reactions. Oestrogens can directly influence the immune system and usually lead to inflammation.

The immune system can be influenced by the nervous system and neurotransmitters. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays important roles not only in the brain but throughout the body. Recent findings show that the signalling pathways controlled by dopamine also play a key role in changing immunity. It is therefore possible that dopamine not only directly influences the immune system, but also that oestrogens can change the signalling pathways controlled by dopamine, which again has an influence on the immune system. How exactly this works is currently being examined in a follow-up project.

Background: B cells

B cells belong to the white blood cells and, together with T cells, make up the adaptive part of the immune system, which is the part that can adapt to new pathogens. If they are activated by foreign antigens, they transform into antibody-producing plasma cells and into memory cells that can prevent an outbreak of infection if they come into contact with the same antigen again.

Original publication:
Wieber, K., Fleige, L., Tsiami, S. et al. Dopamine receptor 1 expressing B cells exert a proinflammatory role in female patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Sci Rep 12, 5985 (2022).:
Scientific contact:
Prof. Dr. Silvia Capellino
Scientific staff
Ardeystrasse 67 Dortmund Nordrhein-Westfalen DE 44139
Press contact:
Anne Gregory
Press officer
Ardeystrasse 67 Dortmund Nordrhein-Westfalen DE 44139