Sex differences in chronic stress responses and Alzheimer's disease

Elsevier, Neurobiology of Stress, Volume 8, February 2018
Yan Y., Dominguez S., Fisher D.W., Dong H.
Clinical studies indicate that Alzheimer's disease (AD) disproportionately affects women in both disease prevalence and severity, but the mechanisms underlying this sex divergence are unknown. Though some have suggested this difference in risk is a reflection of known differences in longevity between men and women, mounting clinical and preclinical evidence supports women also having intrinsic susceptibilities towards the disease. While a number of potential risk factors have been hypothesized to affect these differences in risks, none have been definitively verified. In this review, we discuss a novel hypothesis whereby women's susceptibility to chronic stress also mediates increased risk for AD. As stress is a risk factor for AD, and women are twice as likely to develop mood disorders where stress is a major etiology, it is possible that sex dimorphisms in stress responses contribute to the increase in women with AD. In line with this, sex divergence in biochemical responses to stress have been noted along the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and among known molecular effectors of AD, with crosstalk between these processes also being likely. In addition, activation of the cortical corticotrophin-releasing factor receptor 1 (CRF1) signaling pathway leads to distinct female-biased increases in molecules associated with AD pathogenesis. Therefore, the different biochemical responses to stress between women and men may represent an intrinsic, sex-dependent risk factor for AD.