Sexual dimorphism in the inflammatory response to traumatic brain injury

Glia. 2017 Sep;65(9):1423-1438. doi: 10.1002/glia.23171. Epub 2017 Jun 13.


The activation of resident microglial cells, alongside the infiltration of peripheral macrophages, are key neuroinflammatory responses to traumatic brain injury (TBI) that are directly associated with neuronal death. Sexual disparities in response to TBI have been previously reported; however it is unclear whether a sex difference exists in neuroinflammatory progression after TBI. We exposed male and female mice to moderate-to-severe controlled cortical impact injury and studied glial cell activation in the acute and chronic stages of TBI using immunofluorescence and in situ hybridization analysis. We found that the sex response was completely divergent up to 7 days postinjury. TBI caused a rapid and pronounced cortical microglia/macrophage activation in male mice with a prominent activated phenotype that produced both pro- (IL-1β and TNFα) and anti-inflammatory (Arg1 and TGFβ) cytokines with a single-phase, sustained peak from 1 to 7 days. In contrast, TBI caused a less robust microglia/macrophage phenotype in females with biphasic pro-inflammatory response peaks at 4 h and 7 days, and a delayed anti-inflammatory mRNA peak at 30 days. We further report that female mice were protected against acute cell loss after TBI, with male mice demonstrating enhanced astrogliosis, neuronal death, and increased lesion volume through 7 days post-TBI. Collectively, these findings indicate that TBI leads to a more aggressive neuroinflammatory profile in male compared with female mice during the acute and subacute phases postinjury. Understanding how sex affects the course of neuroinflammation following brain injury is a vital step toward developing personalized and effective treatments for TBI.

Keywords: cytokine; inflammation; microglia; sex-differences; trauma.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arginase / metabolism
  • Astrocytes / immunology
  • Astrocytes / pathology
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / immunology*
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / pathology
  • Cell Death
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Gliosis / immunology
  • Gliosis / pathology
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*
  • Macrophage Activation / immunology
  • Macrophage Activation / physiology
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microglia / immunology
  • Microglia / pathology
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism


  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Arg1 protein, mouse
  • Arginase