Sex differences at cellular level: "cells have a sex"

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2012;(214):49-65. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-30726-3_3.


Different pathways involved in the complex machinery implicated in determining cell fate have been investigated in the recent years. Different forms of cell death have been described: apart from the "classical" form of death known as necrosis, a well characterized traumatic injury of the cell, several additional forms of cell death have been identified. Among these, apoptosis has been characterized in detail. These studies stem from the implication that the apoptotic process plays a key role in a plethora of human pathologies, including cardiovascular diseases. In fact, defects in the mechanisms of cell death, i.e., both an increase or a decrease of apoptosis, have been associated with the pathogenesis of vessel and myocardial diseases. Some new insights also derived from the study of autophagy, a less characterized form of cell damage mainly associated with cell survival strategies but that also leads, as final event, to the death of the cell. Interestingly, very recently, a gender difference has been found in this respect: cells from males and females can behave differently. In fact, they seem to display several different features, including those determining their fate. These gender cytology differences are briefly described here. The study of this gender disparity is of great relevance in cardiovascular disease pathogenesis and pharmacology. The comprehension of the gender-related mechanisms of cell demise can in fact disclose new scenarios in preclinical and clinical management of cardiovascular diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Reactive Oxygen Species