Sex-specific differences in skin cell biology and immunology

Many immunological and infectious diseases show a sexual dimorphism, with more women developing autoimmune diseases and men displaying higher incidences of certain infections. While well documented by clinical observations, the underlying molecular, cellular, and physiological mechanisms are often unknown. Notably, there are more resident immune cells such as Langerhans cells present in female skin than in male skin; however, possible sex-specific functional differences remain elusive.

Currently, it is unclear when and via which factors (e.g., genetics, hormones, other physiologic or environmental factors) sex-specific differences in immune cells arise, whether there are unique sex-specific subpopulations of resident immune cells, how communication of epidermal immune cells with their local environment differs between the sexes, and how these differences impact skin immunity, function, and systemic health. We will tackle these knowledge gaps experimentally to gain much-needed insight into sex-specific and sex-neutral properties of skin immune cells.

Project lead

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Sandra Iden


Saarland University
Cell and Developmental Biology
Centre for Human and Molecular Biology (ZHMB)

ORCID: 0000-0003-2333-9827

Curriculum Vitae



  • Carole Luthold, PhD
  • Ann-Kathrin Burkhart, M.Sc.
  • Franziska Klein, B.Sc.

Important publications

  1. Lrig1 and Wnt dependent niches dictate segregation of resident immune cells and melanocytes in murine tail epidermis. Baess SC, Graband A, Sere K. Zenke M, Niemann C, Iden S (2022). Development 149 (14): dev200154. doi: 10.1242/dev.200154. Open access.

  2. Orchestration of tissue-scale mechanics and fate decisions by polarity signalling. Dias Gomes M, Iden S (2021). EMBO J, e106787. doi: 10.15252/embj.2020106787. Open access.

  3. Polarity signaling ensures epidermal homeostasis by coupling cellular mechanics and genomic integrity. Dias Gomes M, Letzian S, Saynisch M, Iden S (2019). Nat Commun 10, 3362. doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-11325-3. Open access.

  4. Shared and distinct functions of atypical PKCl and Par3 polarity proteins in skin tumorigenesis. Vorhagen S*, Kleefisch D*, Schwickert A, Leitges M, Niessen CM#, Iden S# (2018). Oncogene, 37(37):5136-5146 (shared *first / #senior authors). doi: 10.1038/s41388-018-0313-1. Open access.

  5. The epidermal polarity protein Par3 is a non-cell autonomous suppressor of malignant melanoma. Mescher M, Jeong P, Knapp S, Rübsam M, Saynisch M, Kranen M, Landsberg J, Schlaak M, Mauch C, Tüting T, Niessen CM, Iden S (2017). J Exp Med 214(2):339-358. doi: 10.1084/jem.20160596. Open access.

  6. Essential role of polarity protein Par3 for epidermal homeostasis through regulation of barrier function, keratinocyte differentiation and stem cell maintenance. Ali NJA, Dias Gomes M, Bauer R, Brodesser S, Niemann C, Iden S (2016). J Invest Dermat 136(12):2406-2416. doi: 10.1016/j.jid.2016.07.011. Open access.

  7. Tumor Type-Dependent Function of the Par3 Polarity Protein in Skin Tumorigenesis. Iden S*, van Riel WE, Schäfer R, Song J-Y, Hirose T, Ohno S, Collard JG (2012). Cancer Cell 22(3):389-403. doi: 10.1016/j.ccr.2012.08.004, *: corresponding author. Open access.

  8. aPKC phosphorylates JAM-A at Ser285 to promote cell contact maturation and tight junction formation.Iden S*, Misselwitz S*, Peddibhotla SD, Tuncay H, Rehder D, Gerke V, Robenek H, Suzuki A, Ebnet K (2012). J Cell Biol 196(5):623-39. doi: 10.1083/jcb.201104143, *: equal contribution. Open access.

  9. A distinct PAR polarity protein complex physically associated with VE-cadherin in vertebrate endothelial cells. Iden S, Rehder D, August B, Suzuki A, Noda K, Nagafuchi A, Wolburg-Buchholz K, Wolburg H, Ohno S, Behrens J, Vestweber D, Ebnet K (2006). EMBO Rep 7(12):1239-46. doi: 10.1038/sj.embor.7400819. Open access.

  10. Crosstalk between small GTPases and polarity proteins in cell polarization. Iden S*, Collard JG* (2008). Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol 9(11):846-59. doi: 10.1038/nrm2521, *: shared correspondence