Sexual dimorphism in the spontaneous recovery from spinal cord injury: a gender gap in beneficial autoimmunity?

Eur J Neurosci. 2002 Nov;16(9):1731-40. doi: 10.1046/j.1460-9568.2002.02241.x.


Immune cells have been shown to contribute to spontaneous recovery from central nervous system (CNS) injury. Here we show that adult female rats and mice recover significantly better than their male littermates from incomplete spinal cord injury (ISCI). This sexual dimorphism is wiped out and recovery is worse in adult mice deprived of mature T cells. After spinal cord contusion in adult rats, functional recovery (measured by locomotor scores in an open field) was significantly worse in females treated with dihydrotestosterone prior to the injury than in placebo-treated controls, and significantly better in castrated males than in their noncastrated male littermates. Post-traumatic administration of the testosterone receptor antagonist flutamide promoted the functional recovery in adult male rats. These results, in line with the known inhibitory effect of testosterone on cell-mediated immunity, suggest that androgen-mediated immunosuppression plays a role in ISCI-related immune dysfunction and can therefore partly explain the worse outcome of ISCI in males than in female. We suggest that females, which are more prone to develop autoimmune response than males, benefit from this response in cases of CNS insults.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Androgen Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Autoimmunity*
  • Castration
  • Dihydrotestosterone / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Flutamide / pharmacology
  • Locomotion / drug effects
  • Locomotion / immunology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Recovery of Function / drug effects
  • Recovery of Function / immunology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / immunology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / pathology


  • Androgen Antagonists
  • Dihydrotestosterone
  • Flutamide