Stressing Sex Differences

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Science  05 Nov 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6005, pp. 732-733
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6005.732-d

Males and females show differences in susceptibility to many diseases, particularly those with inflammatory components. Duma et al. therefore investigated whether differential responses to glucocorticoid hormones may contribute to this disparity because of their known anti-inflammatory properties. When rats were treated with a synthetic glucocorticoid, sex-specific differences in gene expression in the rat liver, as measured by microarray analysis, were elevated. Nearly 2000 more hormone-responsive genes were detected in females than in males. Moreover, about 70 genes showed opposite changes in expression, going up in females and down in males, or vice versa. When genes implicated in inflammatory disorders were specifically analyzed, gene expression was more affected in males, and generally glucocorticoid treatment suppressed the expression of these genes.

The authors then tested the physiological significance of their results by measuring the protective effects of glucocorticoid treatment in a deadly inflammatory response in rats. The hormone was more effective in promoting survival of the male rats. Thus, differences in response to anti-inflammatory hormones may explain, at least in part, the differential susceptibility of men and women to diseases associated with inflammation.

Sci. Signal. 3, ra74 (2010).

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