Sex differences in stress-related psychiatric disorders: neurobiological perspectives

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2014 Aug;35(3):303-19. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2014.03.008. Epub 2014 Apr 12.


Stress is associated with the onset and severity of several psychiatric disorders that occur more frequently in women than men, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Patients with these disorders present with dysregulation of several stress response systems, including the neuroendocrine response to stress, corticolimbic responses to negatively valenced stimuli, and hyperarousal. Thus, sex differences within their underlying circuitry may explain sex biases in disease prevalence. This review describes clinical studies that identify sex differences within the activity of these circuits, as well as preclinical studies that demonstrate cellular and molecular sex differences in stress responses systems. These studies reveal sex differences from the molecular to the systems level that increase endocrine, emotional, and arousal responses to stress in females. Exploring these sex differences is critical because this research can reveal the neurobiological underpinnings of vulnerability to stress-related psychiatric disorders and guide the development of novel pharmacotherapies.

Keywords: Arousal; Corticotropin releasing factor; Depression; Emotion; Hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis; Locus coeruleus; Posttraumatic stress disorder; Sex difference; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Brain
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Stress, Psychological*


  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone