The importance of studying sex differences in disease: The example of multiple sclerosis

J Neurosci Res. 2017 Jan 2;95(1-2):633-643. doi: 10.1002/jnr.23955.


To date, scientific research has often focused on one sex, with assumptions that study of the other sex would yield similar results. However, many diseases affect males and females differently. The sex of a patient can affect the risk for both disease susceptibility and progression. Such differences can be brought to the laboratory bench to be investigated, potentially bringing new treatments back to the clinic. This method of research, known as a "bedside to bench to bedside" approach, has been applied to studying sex differences in multiple sclerosis (MS). Females have greater susceptibly to MS, while males have worse disease progression. These two characteristics of the disease are influenced by the immune system and the nervous system, respectively. Thus, sex differences in each system must be studied. Personalized medicine has been at the forefront of research recently, and studying sex differences in disease fits with this initiative. This review will discuss the known sex differences in MS and highlight how investigating them can lead to new insights and potential treatments for both men and women. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: estrogen; experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis; four core genotypes; sex chromosomes; testosterone.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / diagnosis
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / epidemiology
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / therapy
  • Sex Characteristics*