In DepthCOVID-19

Sex hormones signal why virus hits men harder

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Science  05 Jun 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6495, pp. 1038-1039
DOI: 10.1126/science.368.6495.1038


A constellation of new data, from observations of bald men in Spanish hospitals to an apparently protective effect from prostate cancer drugs, is pointing to the role of male hormones called androgens in allowing coronavirus infection. This role, if borne out, would help explain why the virus makes men more gravely ill, and kills them more often, than women. Prostate cancer researchers know that androgens, the most famous of which is testosterone, control production of an important enzyme, TMPRSS2, in the prostate gland. The scientists suspect androgens play the same role in the lungs, ground zero for coronavirus infection. And there, TMPRSS2 helps SARS-CoV-2 invade cells. As some race to find supporting evidence in lab studies, others are preparing to deploy androgen-battling drugs in clinical trials. They hope that, if given to patients soon after they become infected, the medicines, already used in prostate cancer, could spare COVID-19 patients the worst consequences of the disease.

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