Therapeutic implications of sex differences in asthma and atopy
- Correspondence to:
Dr M Osman, Clinical Lecturer in Child Health, Department of Child Health, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD, Scotland, UK;
- Accepted 19 October 2002
Clear sex differences exist in asthma and atopy with a preponderance of boys before puberty. There is a reversal of this sex ratio during puberty with girls having more asthma and atopy throughout the reproductive years. Elucidating the reasons for the switch in the sex ratio should provide fresh insights into asthma and atopy with a real prospect of novel therapies for these troublesome diseases. The challenge is to match the epidemiology and physiology with the accumulating scientific knowledge on gender differences in immune responses. Hormonal changes have been implicated in the reversal of the sex ratio. Testosterone is an immunosuppressant and is likely to be protective, while female sex steroids are proinflammatory and will increase the susceptibility to atopy. Modified so as to be non-virilising/feminising, sex steroids could therefore play a useful part in modulating the immunological and inflammatory processes that underlie asthma and other allergic disorders, complementing the currently used glucocorticoid derived steroids.