Stress Response, Sex and Immunity: the Female Superiority

Stress Response, Sex and Immunity the Female Superiority

A recent perspective published in Science Signaling outlines the gender-specific differences in the stress response and the actions of glucocorticoids, and the female superiority in terms of dealing with stress and infections.

Sexual dimorphism in immunity, i.e. the differences in males and females in their immunological responses and immune function is well-known.

The sex-based immunological differences contribute to variations in the incidence of autoimmune diseases and malignancies, susceptibility to infectious diseases. For example, women have a lower risk of infections but are more susceptible to autoimmune/inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and autoimmune thyroid diseases.

Stress activity and responsiveness, however, also display sexual dimorphism or gender differences. It appears that here both the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis responsiveness and the stress responsiveness of the brain noradrenergic system are involved. Hypertension, aggressive behavior, and drug abuse is known to be higher in men, but depression and anxiety disorders are more prevalent in women. These sex differences have been explained, at least in part, by differences in the stress activity and responsiveness.

In the Science Signaling perspective George Chrousos discusses these gender differences from an evolutionary perspective, including gene network evolution and steroid molecular actions, as well as sexual dimorphism even in the absence of estrogens and androgens.

The author provides a concise and contemporary view on the multilevel interactions between the stress, reproductive and immune systems and how they may determine gender-specific stress and immune responses.

In terms of clinical implications, Chrousos goes further, discussing how stress response and immune and inflammatory reactions are more potent in women than in men.

This may explain the former’s higher prevalence of stress-related behavioral syndromes, such as anxiety, depression, psychosomatic and eating disorders, and autoimmune inflammatory or allergic disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and multiple sclerosis, or asthma, respectively.

Source: Sci Signal, 2010 Oct 12; 3(143):pe36. doi: 10.1126/scisignal.3143pe36
Read more: Science Signaling

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