Cara Murez

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 9, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Women tend to recover better than men from kidney injury, but why?

Apparently, women have a molecular-level advantage that protects them from a form of cell death that occurs in injured kidneys, a new study in mice has found.

“Kidney disease affects more than 850 million people worldwide each year, so it is important to understand why female kidneys are better protected against such acute and chronic damage,” said study author Dr. Tomokazu Souma. He is an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina.

“Our study is a step toward identifying the causes and suggests that this female resilience could be therapeutically harnessed to improve kidney repair in both sexes,” Souma said in a Duke Health press release.

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In the study, the researchers looked at a form of cell death called ferroptosis, which depends on iron and oxidative stress, and has been identified as a key player in kidney disease.

The researchers used a special type of RNA analysis on mice. They found that being female conferred striking protection against ferroptosis through a particular pathway called erythroid nuclear factor 2 (NRF2).

This NRF2 is very active in females. In men, the sex hormone testosterone reduces NRF2 activity, which promotes ferroptosis and undermines cellular resilience in kidney damage.

The team did additional experiments, finding that chemical activation of NRF2 protected male kidney cells from ferroptosis. This means that NRF2 could be a potential treatment target to promote kidney repair after acute kidney injury.

“By identifying the mechanism in which the female hormonal environment protects and the male hormonal environment aggravates acute and chronic kidney injury, we believe there is strong potential to enhance kidney resilience,” Souma said.

The results were published online Nov. 8 in the journal Cell reports. It is important to note that animal research does not always take place in humans.

The National Kidney Foundation has more on acute kidney injury.

SOURCE: Duke Health, press release, November 8, 2022