Sex differences in neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders: Focus on microglial function and neuroinflammation during development

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2016 Jun:160:127-33. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2015.09.039. Epub 2015 Oct 23.


Several neurological conditions are associated with sex differences in prevalence or outcome. For example, autism predominantly affects boys, depression is more common in women, Parkinson's disease more common in men, and multiple sclerosis in women. In the case of stroke, women have a less favorable outcome and suffer from a more precipitous drop in health status compared to men. As a result, treatment of such diseases is difficult and yields variable results. Despite this, sex is rarely considered when making treatment decisions. The mechanisms underlying sex differences in disease progression are not well understood, however a strong link exists between different inflammation states of men and women and their propensity to develop certain diseases. As neuroinflammation is an important component of pathophysiology in many neurological conditions, it can be speculated that any changes in the state of inflammation in the brain during normal development can potentially lead to an increase in susceptibility to neurological and neurodegenerative diseases. Microglia play a crucial role in onset and modulation of inflammation and thus sex differences in microglial function could explain, at least in part, differences observed in susceptibilities and outcomes of neurological disorders in men and women. Understanding the mechanisms behind sex differences could help develop more targeted therapy with higher success rate, especially in diseases where sex differences are most prominent.

Keywords: Microglia; Neurodegeneration; Neurodevelopment; Neuroinflammation; Sex differences.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Diseases / etiology*
  • Brain Diseases / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / etiology
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Male
  • Microglia / pathology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / etiology*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sex Factors