Sex differences in mechanisms and outcome of neonatal hypoxia-ischemia in rodent models: implications for sex-specific neuroprotection in clinical neonatal practice

Neurol Res Int. 2012;2012:867531. doi: 10.1155/2012/867531. Epub 2012 Feb 14.


Clinical findings show that male infants with hypoxic-ischemic injury (HI) fare more poorly than matched females on cognitive outcomes. Rodent models of neonatal hypoxia-ischemia support this difference, with data showing that perinatal brain injury leads to long-term behavioral deficits primarily in male rodents and in female rodents treated with early androgens. Results support the idea that sex-specific gonadal hormones may modulate developmental response to injury and dovetail with overwhelming evidence of developmental androgen effects on typical brain morphology and behavior. However, mechanisms underlying sex differences in response to early brain injury may be more complicated. Specifically, activation of cell death pathways in response to HI may also differ by sex. In females, the preferential activation of the caspase-dependent apoptotic pathway may actually afford greater protection, potentially due to the actions of X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis (XIAP) within this pathway. This contrasts the pattern of preferential activation of the caspase-independent pathway in males. While an integrated model of sex-specific hormonal and genetic modulation of response to early injury remains to be fully elucidated, these findings suggest that infants might benefit from sex-specific neuroprotection following HI injury.