Qualitative sex differences in pain processing: emerging evidence of a biased literature

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2020 Jul;21(7):353-365. doi: 10.1038/s41583-020-0310-6. Epub 2020 May 21.


Although most patients with chronic pain are women, the preclinical literature regarding pain processing and the pathophysiology of chronic pain has historically been derived overwhelmingly from the study of male rodents. This Review describes how the recent adoption by a number of funding agencies of policies mandating the incorporation of sex as a biological variable into preclinical research has correlated with an increase in the number of studies investigating sex differences in pain and analgesia. Trends in the field are analysed, with a focus on newly published findings of qualitative sex differences: that is, those findings that are suggestive of differential processing mechanisms in each sex. It is becoming increasingly clear that robust differences exist in the genetic, molecular, cellular and systems-level mechanisms of acute and chronic pain processing in male and female rodents and humans.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain Management*
  • Pain Perception / physiology*
  • Pain* / genetics
  • Pain* / immunology
  • Pain* / physiopathology
  • Pain* / psychology
  • Sex Characteristics*

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