Sex differences in mechanisms of cardiac excitation-contraction coupling

Pflugers Arch. 2013 May;465(5):747-63. doi: 10.1007/s00424-013-1233-0. Epub 2013 Feb 17.


The incidence and expression of cardiovascular diseases differs between the sexes. This is not surprising, as cardiac physiology differs between men and women. Clinical and basic science investigations have shown important sex differences in cardiac structure and function. The pervasiveness of sex differences suggests that such differences must be fundamental, likely operating at a cellular level. Indeed, studies have shown that isolated ventricular myocytes from female animals have smaller and slower contractions and underlying calcium transients compared to males. Recent evidence suggests that this arises from sex differences in components of the cardiac excitation-contraction coupling pathway, the sequence of events linking myocyte depolarization to calcium release from the sarcoplasmic reticulum and subsequent contraction. The concept that sex hormones may regulate intracellular calcium at the level of the cardiomyocyte is important, as levels of these hormones decline in both men and women as the incidence of cardiovascular disease rises. This review focuses on the impact of sex on cardiac contraction, in particular at the cellular level, and highlights specific components of the excitation-contraction coupling pathway that differ between the sexes. Understanding sex hormone regulation of calcium homeostasis in the heart may reveal new avenues for therapeutic strategies to treat cardiac dysfunction and cardiovascular diseases.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Excitation Contraction Coupling*
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Myocardial Contraction*
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Calcium