Do men die young and sick, or do women live long and healthy? By trying to explain the sexual dimorphism in life expectancy, both biological and environmental aspects are presently being addressed. Besides age-related changes, both the immune and the endocrine system exhibit significant sex-specific differences. This review deals with the aging immune system and its interplay with sex steroid hormones. Together, they impact on the etiopathology of many infectious diseases, which are still the major causes of morbidity and mortality in people at old age. Among men, susceptibilities toward many infectious diseases and the corresponding mortality rates are higher. Responses to various types of vaccination are often higher among women thereby also mounting stronger humoral responses. Women appear immune-privileged. The major sex steroid hormones exhibit opposing effects on cells of both the adaptive and the innate immune system: estradiol being mainly enhancing, testosterone by and large suppressive. However, levels of sex hormones change with age. At menopause transition, dropping estradiol potentially enhances immunosenescence effects posing postmenopausal women at additional, yet specific risks. Conclusively during aging, interventions, which distinctively consider the changing level of individual hormones, shall provide potent options in maintaining optimal immune functions.
Keywords: hormone replacement; immunosenescence; infectious diseases; menopause; sex differences; vaccination.
© 2015 The Authors. Aging Cell published by the Anatomical Society and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.