The effects of hormones on sex differences in infection: from genes to behavior

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2000 Aug;24(6):627-38. doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(00)00027-0.


Males of many species are more susceptible than females to infections caused by parasites, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. One proximate cause of sex differences in infection is differences in endocrine-immune interactions. Specifically, males may be more susceptible to infection than females because sex steroids, specifically androgens in males and estrogens in females, modulate several aspects of host immunity. It is, however, becoming increasingly more apparent that in addition to affecting host immunity, sex steroid hormones alter genes and behaviors that influence susceptibility and resistance to infection. Thus, males may be more susceptible to infection than females not only because androgens reduce immunocompetence, but because sex steroid hormones affect disease resistance genes and behaviors that make males more susceptible to infection. Consideration of the cumulative effects of sex steroid hormones on susceptibility to infection may serve to clarify current discrepancies in the literature and offer alternative hypotheses to the view that sex steroid hormones only alter susceptibility to infection via changes in host immune function.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Hormones / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infections / genetics*
  • Infections / physiopathology
  • Infections / psychology*
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Hormones