Effects of gender and sex steroids on the immune response

J Steroid Biochem. 1990 Feb;35(2):157-72. doi: 10.1016/0022-4731(90)90270-3.


Elevated immune responses and the higher incidence of autoimmune diseases in female (compared to male) humans and animals have been known for a long time. However, the scientific interest in this interrelationship has been limited both amongst immunologists and endocrinologists. It is mainly in the last ten years that investigations in this area have been intensifying. A number of fairly recent review articles confirm the increased interest in various aspects of this "interdiscipline" [1-4]. In the present paper we should like to make a new assessment of the state of knowledge. We shall firstly discuss heteroimmune response differences between males and females in humans, rodents and birds and then the roles of gender and sex hormones in autoimmune disease in various species. The general conclusions are the following. Gender and sex hormones have a clear effect on various hetero- and auto-immune responses but the mechanisms of action are still unknown; starting from sex hormones, steroids can be devised which have favourable effects on immune processes but lack undesirable hormonal effects; such hormonomimetics should be, in principle, applicable for the treatment of autoimmune disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular*
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones