Sex differences in the neurobiology of epilepsy: a preclinical perspective

Neurobiol Dis. 2014 Dec;72 Pt B:180-92. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2014.07.004. Epub 2014 Jul 21.


When all of the epilepsies are considered, sex differences are not always clear, despite the fact that many sex differences are known in the normal brain. Sex differences in epilepsy in laboratory animals are also unclear, although robust effects of sex on seizures have been reported, and numerous effects of gonadal steroids have been shown throughout the rodent brain. Here we discuss several reasons why sex differences in seizure susceptibility are unclear or are difficult to study. Examples of robust sex differences in laboratory rats, such as the relative resistance of adult female rats to the chemoconvulsant pilocarpine compared to males, are described. We also describe a novel method that has shed light on sex differences in neuropathology, which is a relatively new technique that will potentially contribute to sex differences research in the future. The assay we highlight uses the neuronal nuclear antigen NeuN to probe sex differences in adult male and female rats and mice. In females, weak NeuN expression defines a sex difference that previous neuropathological studies have not described. We also show that in adult rats, social isolation stress can obscure the normal effects of 17β-estradiol to increase excitability in area CA3 of the hippocampus. These data underscore the importance of controlling behavioral stress in studies of seizure susceptibility in rodents and suggest that behavioral stress may be one factor that has led to inconsistencies in outcomes of sex differences research. These and other issues have made it difficult to translate our increasing knowledge about the effects of gonadal hormones on the brain to improved treatment for men and women with epilepsy.

Keywords: Androgen; Epileptogenesis; Estradiol; Estrogen; Estrous cycle; Gender; Menstrual cycle; Neurosteroid; Progesterone; Seizure; Temporal lobe epilepsy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical*
  • Epilepsy* / drug therapy
  • Epilepsy* / metabolism
  • Epilepsy* / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neurobiology*
  • Rats
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Anticonvulsants