Journal: Biology of sex differences
The kidney functions in key physiological processes to filter blood and regulate blood pressure via key molecular transporters and ion channels. Sex-specific differences have been observed in renal disease incidence and progression, as well as acute kidney injury in response to certain drugs. Although advances have been made in characterizing the molecular components involved in various kidney functions, the molecular mechanisms responsible for sex differences are not well understood. We hypothesized that the basal expression levels of genes involved in various kidney functions throughout the life cycle will influence sex-specific susceptibilities to adverse renal events.
Most writing on sexual differentiation of the mammalian brain (including our own) considers just two organs: the gonads and the brain. This perspective, which leaves out all other body parts, misleads us in several ways. First, there is accumulating evidence that all organs are sexually differentiated, and that sex differences in peripheral organs affect the brain. We demonstrate this by reviewing examples involving sex differences in muscles, adipose tissue, the liver, immune system, gut, kidneys, bladder, and placenta that affect the nervous system and behavior. The second consequence of ignoring other organs when considering neural sex differences is that we are likely to miss the fact that some brain sex differences develop to compensate for differences in the internal environment (i.e., because male and female brains operate in different bodies, sex differences are required to make output/function more similar in the two sexes). We also consider evidence that sex differences in sensory systems cause male and female brains to perceive different information about the world; the two sexes are also perceived by the world differently and therefore exposed to differences in experience via treatment by others. Although the topic of sex differences in the brain is often seen as much more emotionally charged than studies of sex differences in other organs, the dichotomy is largely false. By putting the brain firmly back in the body, sex differences in the brain are predictable and can be more completely understood.
Sex differences in tobacco-related morbidity and mortality exist, with women experiencing more severe health consequences and greater difficulty with smoking cessation than men. One factor that likely contributes to these sex differences is menstrual cycle phase and associated neural and cognitive changes associated with ovarian hormone fluctuations across the menstrual cycle. Previously, we showed that naturally cycling, cigarette-dependent women in the follicular phase of their menstrual cycle showed greater reward-related neural activity and greater craving during smoking cue exposure. To better understand our results and the observed sex differences in smoking behavior and relapse, we explored potential menstrual cycle phase differences in resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) in naturally cycling, cigarette-dependent women. Understanding how menstrual cycle phase affects neural processes, cognition, and behavior is a critical step in developing more efficacious treatments and in selecting the best treatment option based on a patient’s needs.
Despite the growing numbers of men and women with opioid use disorder in Canada, sex-specific issues in treatment have not been re-examined in the current population of patients with opioid addiction. We aimed to evaluate sex differences in substance use, health, and social functioning among men and women currently receiving methadone treatment for opioid use disorder in Ontario, Canada.
Biological sex plays a prominent role in the prevalence and severity of a number of important stress-related gastrointestinal and immune-related diseases including IBS and allergy/anaphylaxis. Despite the establishment of sex differences in these diseases, the underlying mechanisms contributing to sex differences remain poorly understood. The objective of this study was to define the role of biological sex on mast cells (MCs), an innate immune cell central to the pathophysiology of many GI and allergic disorders.
During early development, testosterone plays an important role in sexual differentiation of the mammalian brain and has enduring influences on behavior. Testosterone exerts these influences at times when the testes are active, as evidenced by higher concentrations of testosterone in developing male than in developing female animals. This article critically reviews the available evidence regarding influences of testosterone on human gender-related development. In humans, testosterone is elevated in males from about weeks 8 to 24 of gestation and then again during early postnatal development. Individuals exposed to atypical concentrations of testosterone or other androgenic hormones prenatally, for example, because of genetic conditions or because their mothers were prescribed hormones during pregnancy, have been consistently found to show increased male-typical juvenile play behavior, alterations in sexual orientation and gender identity (the sense of self as male or female), and increased tendencies to engage in physically aggressive behavior. Studies of other behavioral outcomes following dramatic androgen abnormality prenatally are either too small in their numbers or too inconsistent in their results, to provide similarly conclusive evidence. Studies relating normal variability in testosterone prenatally to subsequent gender-related behavior have produced largely inconsistent results or have yet to be independently replicated. For studies of prenatal exposures in typically developing individuals, testosterone has been measured in single samples of maternal blood or amniotic fluid. These techniques may not be sufficiently powerful to consistently detect influences of testosterone on behavior, particularly in the relatively small samples that have generally been studied. The postnatal surge in testosterone in male infants, sometimes called mini-puberty, may provide a more accessible opportunity for measuring early androgen exposure during typical development. This approach has recently begun to be used, with some promising results relating testosterone during the first few months of postnatal life to later gender-typical play behavior. In replicating and extending these findings, it may be important to assess testosterone when it is maximal (months 1 to 2 postnatal) and to take advantage of the increased reliability afforded by repeated sampling.
Cannabis will soon become legalized in Canada, and it is currently unclear how this will impact public health. Methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) is the most common pharmacological treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD), and despite its documented effectiveness, a large number of patients respond poorly and experience relapse to illicit opioids. Some studies implicate cannabis use as a risk factor for poor MMT response. Although it is well established that substance-use behaviors differ by sex, few of these studies have considered sex as a potential moderator. The current study aims to investigate sex differences in the association between cannabis use and illicit opioid use in a cohort of MMT patients.
Juvenile social play is observed in many mammalian species, and its disruption in several neuropsychiatric disorders has greatly increased interest in understanding the origins and sources of variability in this behavior.
The categorization of individuals as “male” or “female” is based on chromosome complement and gonadal and genital phenotype. This combined genetic-gonadal-genitals sex, here referred to as 3G-sex, is internally consistent in ~99% of humans (i.e., one has either the “female” form at all levels, or the “male” form at all levels). About 1% of the human population is identified as “intersex” because of either having an intermediate form at one or more levels, or having the “male” form at some levels and the “female” form at other levels. These two types of “intersex” reflect the facts, respectively, that the different levels of 3G-sex are not completely dimorphic nor perfectly consistent. Using 3G-sex as a model to understand sex differences in other domains (e.g., brain, behavior) leads to the erroneous assumption that sex differences in these other domains are also highly dimorphic and highly consistent. But parallel lines of research have led to the conclusion that sex differences in the brain and in behavior, cognition, personality, and other gender characteristics are for the most part not dimorphic and not internally consistent (i.e., having one brain/gender characteristic with the “male” form is not a reliable predictor for the form of other brain/gender characteristics). Therefore although only ~1% percent of humans are 3G-“intersex”, when it comes to brain and gender, we all have an intersex gender (i.e., an array of masculine and feminine traits) and an intersex brain (a mosaic of “male” and “female” brain characteristics).
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that affects approximately four times as many males as females, a strong sex bias that has not yet been fully explained. Understanding the causes of this biased prevalence may highlight novel avenues for treatment development that could benefit patients with diverse genetic backgrounds, and the expertise of sex differences researchers will be invaluable in this endeavor. In this review, I aim to assess current evidence pertaining to the sex difference in ASD prevalence and to identify outstanding questions and remaining gaps in our understanding of how males come to be more frequently affected and/or diagnosed with ASD. Though males consistently outnumber females in ASD prevalence studies, prevalence estimates generated using different approaches report male/female ratios of variable magnitude that suggest that ascertainment or diagnostic biases may contribute to the male skew in ASD. Here, I present the different methods applied and implications of their findings. Additionally, even as prevalence estimations challenge the degree of male bias in ASD, support is growing for the long-proposed female protective effect model of ASD risk, and I review the relevant results from recurrence rate, quantitative trait, and genetic analyses. Lastly, I describe work investigating several sex-differential biological factors and pathways that may be responsible for females' protection and/or males' increased risk predicted by the female protective effect model, including sex steroid hormone exposure and regulation and sex-differential activity of certain neural cell types. However, much future work from both the ASD and sex differences research communities will be required to flesh out our understanding of how these factors act to influence the developing brain and modulate ASD risk.