Sex and gender differences in disease prevalence, pathogenesis and modulation have been frequently reported. The menstrual cycle represents the opportunity to study the physiological effect of hormonal fluctuations in vivo on the immune function and chronic disease modulation. Reports on the effect of the cycle on immune cell numbers and activity fluctuations are scarce, but recent publications demonstrate an increasing interest in the subject. The menstrual cycle might affect immune cell numbers and modulate their activity throughout the 4-week cycle, as demonstrated in the case of regulatory T cells. The implications of these fluctuations are particularly relevant in the field of chronic diseases affecting women of reproductive age. In fact, baseline inflammation and immune cell activation in association with other mechanisms, such as regulation of receptor expression, modulation of muscular contraction and behavioral aspects might explain the menstrual-associated fluctuations described in chronic and acute diseases. In the following review the current knowledge about the modulatory effects of the menstrual cycle on both immune cells and systemic diseases, such as autoimmune diseases, asthma, diabetes, cardiac arrhythmia and schizophrenia, is reported. Most of these diseases display worsening of symptoms premenstrually or during menses due to physiologic effects on the target tissue mediated by progesterone and estrogen fluctuations and, thus, display paradigmatic changes potentially relevant to numerous other conditions.
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