Sexually divergent induction of microglial-associated neuroinflammation with hippocampal aging

J Neuroinflammation. 2017 Jul 21;14(1):141. doi: 10.1186/s12974-017-0920-8.


Background: The necessity of including both males and females in molecular neuroscience research is now well understood. However, there is relatively limited basic biological data on brain sex differences across the lifespan despite the differences in age-related neurological dysfunction and disease between males and females.

Methods: Whole genome gene expression of young (3 months), adult (12 months), and old (24 months) male and female C57BL6 mice hippocampus was analyzed. Subsequent bioinformatic analyses and confirmations of age-related changes and sex differences in hippocampal gene and protein expression were performed.

Results: Males and females demonstrate both common expression changes with aging and marked sex differences in the nature and magnitude of the aging responses. Age-related hippocampal induction of neuroinflammatory gene expression was sexually divergent and enriched for microglia-specific genes such as complement pathway components. Sexually divergent C1q protein expression was confirmed by immunoblotting and immunohistochemistry. Similar patterns of cortical sexually divergent gene expression were also evident. Additionally, inter-animal gene expression variability increased with aging in males, but not females.

Conclusions: These findings demonstrate sexually divergent neuroinflammation with aging that may contribute to sex differences in age-related neurological diseases such as stroke and Alzheimer's, specifically in the complement system. The increased expression variability in males suggests a loss of fidelity in gene expression regulation with aging. These findings reveal a central role of sex in the transcriptomic response of the hippocampus to aging that warrants further, in depth, investigations.

Keywords: Aging; Brain; Gene expression; Neuroinflammation; Sex differences.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aging*
  • Animals
  • Complement C1 / genetics
  • Complement C1 / metabolism
  • Computational Biology
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / growth & development
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Transcriptome


  • Complement C1
  • Cytokines
  • RNA, Messenger