Influence of sex hormones on the immune response to leishmaniasis

Parasite Immunol. 2021 Oct;43(10-11):e12874. doi: 10.1111/pim.12874. Epub 2021 Aug 2.


The differences in morbidity and mortality patterns and life expectancy between the sexes are well established in different infectious and parasitic conditions, such as in leishmaniases, in which biological, genetic, sexual and hormonal variations can modulate the immune response indicating greater infectivity, prevalence and clinical severity in men. In this regard, in seeking the understanding of factors related to protection and susceptibility to infection, this review aimed to discuss the influence of sex hormones on the immune response to leishmaniases. In the literature, sex hormone variations promote differences in the innate, humoral and cell-mediated immune response, leading to greater susceptibility, mortality and complications in males. Epidemiological estimates confirm these results, showing a predominance of the disease, in its different clinical forms, in men and suggesting that sexual variations influence immunomodulatory mechanisms since the prevalence of cases comprises the post-puberty and adulthood period. In this perspective, the action of sex hormones has been investigated in different clinical models, highlighting the potential of testosterone in immunosuppression, given its association with greater susceptibility and poor control of parasite load and the induction of cell apoptosis and attenuation of pro-inflammatory signalling pathways. Therefore, hormonal variations influence the immune response among males and females against leishmaniases, in which androgens may present immunosuppressive potential, while steroids present immunomodulatory characteristics.

Keywords: immune response; infectious diseases; leishmaniases; sex bias; sex hormones.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Humans
  • Immunity
  • Leishmaniasis*
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Testosterone


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Testosterone