There is increasing recognition that women have a higher prevalence of certain psychiatric illnesses, and a differential treatment response and course of illness compared to men. Additionally, clinicians deal with a number of disorders like premenstrual syndrome, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and postpartum depression, which affect women specifically and for which treatment and biological pathways are still unclear. In this article we highlight recent research which suggests that different biological mechanisms may underlie sex differences in responsiveness to stress. Sex differences are evident at the receptor level; where the corticotropin-releasing factor receptor shows differential coupling to adaptor proteins in males and females. The neuropeptide oxytocin also shows sex-specific effects in a range of social behaviors. It may act as a biomarker in post-traumatic stress disorder where sex differences are evident. Studies in women using hormonal contraception show that some of these oxytocin-mediated effects are likely influenced by sex hormones. In female rats rapid changes in circulating progesterone levels are associated with exaggerated behavioral responses to mild stress and blunted responses to benzodiazepines that could be prevented by acute treatment with low-dose fluoxetine. Perceived barriers in research on women have hindered progress. The development of a sex-specific psychopharmacology as a basis for translating this type of research into clinical practice is vital to improve treatment outcomes for women.
Bibliographical note7 November 2017
- Sex differences
- sex hormones