Sexually dimorphic microglia and ischemic stroke

CNS Neurosci Ther. 2019 Dec;25(12):1308-1317. doi: 10.1111/cns.13267. Epub 2019 Nov 20.


Ischemic stroke kills more women compared with men thus emphasizing a significant sexual dimorphism in ischemic pathophysiological outcomes. However, the mechanisms behind this sexual dimorphism are yet to be fully understood. It is well established that cerebral ischemia activates a variety of inflammatory cascades and that microglia are the primary immune cells of the brain. After ischemic injury, microglia are activated and play a crucial role in progression and resolution of the neuroinflammatory response. In recent years, research has focused on the role that microglia play in this sexual dimorphism that exists in the response to central nervous system (CNS) injury. Evidence suggests that the molecular mechanisms leading to microglial activation and polarization of phenotypes may be influenced by sex, therefore causing a difference in the pro/anti-inflammatory responses after CNS injury. Here, we review advances highlighting that sex differences in microglia are an important factor in the inflammatory responses that are seen after ischemic injury. We discuss the main differences between microglia in the healthy and diseased developing, adult, and aging brain. We also focus on the dimorphism that exists between males and females in microglial-induced inflammation and energy metabolism after CNS injury. Finally, we describe how all of the current research and literature regarding sex differences in microglia contribute to the differences in poststroke responses between males and females.

Keywords: estrogen receptors; inflammasome; inflammation; reproductive senescent female.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Ischemia / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microglia / pathology*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Stroke / pathology*