Sex differences in the biology of different organ systems and the influence of sex hormones in modulating health and disease are increasingly relevant in clinical and research areas. Although work has focused on sex differences and sex hormones in cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and neuronal systems, there is now increasing clinical evidence for sex differences in incidence, morbidity, and mortality of lung diseases including allergic diseases (such as asthma), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary fibrosis, lung cancer, as well as pulmonary hypertension. Whether such differences are inherent and/or whether sex steroids play a role in modulating these differences is currently under investigation. The purpose of this review is to define sex differences in lung structure/function under normal and specific disease states, with exploration of whether and how sex hormone signaling mechanisms may explain these clinical observations. Focusing on adult age groups, the review addresses the following: 1) inherent sex differences in lung anatomy and physiology; 2) the importance of certain time points in life such as puberty, pregnancy, menopause, and aging; 3) expression and signaling of sex steroid receptors under normal vs. disease states; 4) potential interplay between different sex steroids; 5) the question of whether sex steroids are beneficial or detrimental to the lung; and 6) the potential use of sex steroid signaling as biomarkers and therapeutic avenues in lung diseases. The importance of focusing on sex differences and sex steroids in the lung lies in the increasing incidence of lung diseases in women and the need to address lung diseases across the life span.
Copyright © 2012 by The Endocrine Society