Men and women exhibit differences in the development and progression of Alzheimer's disease (AD). The factors underlying the sex differences in AD are not well understood. This Review emphasizes the contributions of sex steroid hormones to the relationship between sex and AD. In women, events that decrease lifetime exposure to estrogens are generally associated with increased AD risk, whereas estrogen-based hormone therapy administered near the time of menopause may reduce AD risk. In men, estrogens do not exhibit age-related reduction and are not significantly associated with AD risk. Rather, normal age-related depletions of testosterone in plasma and brain predict enhanced vulnerability to AD. Both estrogens and androgens exert numerous protective actions in the adult brain that increase neural functioning and resilience as well as specifically attenuating multiple aspects of AD-related neuropathology. Aging diminishes the activational effects of sex hormones in sex-specific manners, which is hypothesized to contribute to the relationship between aging and AD. Sex steroid hormones may also drive sex differences in AD through their organizational effects during developmental sexual differentiation of the brain. Specifically, sex hormone actions during early development may confer inherent vulnerability of the female brain to development of AD in advanced age. The combined effects of organizational and activational effects of sex steroids yield distinct sex differences in AD pathogenesis, a significant variable that must be more rigorously considered in future research. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; aging; estrogen; menopause; sex differences; testosterone.
© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.