Sex differences in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder: Are gonadal hormones the link?

Br J Pharmacol. 2019 Nov;176(21):4119-4135. doi: 10.1111/bph.14584. Epub 2019 Mar 14.


In this review, we describe the sex differences in prevalence, onset, symptom profiles, and disease outcome that are evident in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Women with schizophrenia tend to exhibit less disease impairment than men. By contrast, women with post-traumatic stress disorder are more affected than men. The most likely candidates to explain these sex differences are gonadal hormones. This review details the clinical evidence that oestradiol and progesterone are dysregulated in these psychiatric disorders. Notably, existing data on oestradiol, and to a lesser extent, progesterone, suggest that low levels of these hormones may increase the risk of disease development and worsen symptom severity. We argue that future studies require a more inclusive, considered analysis of gonadal steroid hormones and the intricacies of the interactions between them, with methodological rigour applied, to enhance our understanding of the roles of steroid hormones in psychiatric disorders. LINKED ARTICLES: This article is part of a themed section on The Importance of Sex Differences in Pharmacology Research. To view the other articles in this section visit

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bipolar Disorder / metabolism*
  • Gonadal Hormones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Schizophrenia / metabolism*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / metabolism*


  • Gonadal Hormones