Do men and women follow different trajectories to reach extreme longevity? Italian Multicenter Study on Centenarians (IMUSCE)

Aging (Milano). 2000 Apr;12(2):77-84. doi: 10.1007/BF03339894.


Gender accounts for important differences in the incidence and prevalence of a variety of age-related diseases. Considering people of far advanced age, demographic data document a clear-cut prevalence of females compared to males, suggesting that sex-specific mortality rates follow different trajectories during aging. In the present investigation, we report data from a nationwide study on Italian centenarians (a total of 1162 subjects), and from two studies on centenarians living in two distinct zones of Italy, i.e., the island of Sardinia (a total of 222 subjects) and the Mantova province (Northern Italy) (a total of 43 subjects). The female/male ratio was about 2:1 in Sardinia, 4:1 in the whole of Italy, and about 7:1 in the Mantova province. Thus, a complex interaction of environmental, historical and genetic factors, differently characterizing the various parts of Italy, likely plays an important role in determining the gender-specific probability of achieving longevity. Gender differences in the health status of centenarians are also reported, and an innovative score method to classify long-lived people in different health categories, according to clinical and functional parameters, is proposed. Our data indicate that not only is this selected group of people, as a whole, highly heterogeneous, but also that a marked gender difference exists, since male centenarians are less heterogeneous and more healthy than female centenarians. Immunological factors regarding the age-related increase in pro-inflammatory status, and the frequency of HLA ancestral haplotypes also show gender differences that likely contribute to the different strategies that men and women seem to follow to achieve longevity. Concerning the different impact of genetic factors on the probability of reaching the extreme limits of the human life-span, emerging evidence (regarding mtDNA haplogroups, Thyrosine Hydroxilase, and IL-6 genes) suggests that female longevity is less dependent on genetics than male longevity, and that female centenarians likely exploited a healthier life-style and more favorable environmental conditions, owing to gender-specific cultural and anthropological characteristics of the Italian society in the last 100 years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology
  • Longevity* / genetics
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology