Gender differences in autoimmune disease

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2014 Aug;35(3):347-69. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2014.04.004. Epub 2014 May 2.


Autoimmune diseases are a range of diseases in which the immune response to self-antigens results in damage or dysfunction of tissues. Autoimmune diseases can be systemic or can affect specific organs or body systems. For most autoimmune diseases there is a clear sex difference in prevalence, whereby females are generally more frequently affected than males. In this review, we consider gender differences in systemic and organ-specific autoimmune diseases, and we summarize human data that outlines the prevalence of common autoimmune diseases specific to adult males and females in countries commonly surveyed. We discuss possible mechanisms for sex specific differences including gender differences in immune response and organ vulnerability, reproductive capacity including pregnancy, sex hormones, genetic predisposition, parental inheritance, and epigenetics. Evidence demonstrates that gender has a significant influence on the development of autoimmune disease. Thus, considerations of gender should be at the forefront of all studies that attempt to define mechanisms that underpin autoimmune disease.

Keywords: Autoimmunity; Gender; Immune system; Sex differences.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / immunology
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones