The male human liver may ‘change sex’ as part of a process to protect itself from possible injury, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia. .
The objective of the work, initially, was to understand how sleep disturbances can cause metabolic diseases and health problems at the organ level, such as obesity and diabetes. However, during the studies, the researchers observed that more advanced liver damage in men was associated with a process of changing the liver towards characteristics related to its version in women.
The experiment, initially carried out with mice, was later reproduced in humans and, in both cases, the same process was observed. In it, the scientists used an already established relationship between the biological clock and the development of liver problems to study the response of the organ.
With the animals, the researchers knocked out a gene responsible for the functioning of the biological clock and fed the rodents a diet high in fat, in the hope that liver damage would soon be observed.
However, the male mice’s livers relied on estrogen, a female hormone that the study authors said had a protective effect on the organ. The larger the lesion, the greater the hormone-triggered “feminization” process, the researchers said.
Indeed, the liver is a sexually dimorphic organ, that is to say, it has different characteristics between men and women. Studies show that more than a thousand genes are responsible for these variations. In practice, they make the female liver, for example, more sensitive to the action of drugs and alcohol.
A study by researchers at the University of South Carolina in the United States found that these differences make women more susceptible to drug-induced liver injury and acute liver failure. In the study, it was observed that more than 70% of hospitalized patients with liver damage due to unintentional drug reactions were female, and study officials attributed the prevalence to genetic differences between the female and male organ.