Genetic and observational evidence supports a causal role of sex hormones on the development of asthma

Ryan Arathimos*, Raquel Granell, Philip Haycock, Rebecca Richmond, James Yarmolinsky, Caroline Relton, Kate Tilling

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
207 Downloads (Pure)


Introduction: Males have a higher prevalence of asthma in childhood, whereas females have a higher prevalence in adolescence and adulthood. The 'adolescent switch' observed between sexes during puberty has been hypothesised to be due to fluctuating sex hormones. Robust evidence of the involvement of sex hormones in asthma could lead to development of therapeutic interventions. Methods: We combine observational evidence using longitudinal data on sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), total and bioavailable testosterone and asthma from a subset of males (n=512) in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, and genetic evidence of SHBG and asthma using two-sample Mendelian randomisation (MR), a method of causal inference. We meta-analysed two-sample MR results across two large data sets, the Trans-National Asthma Genetics Consortium genome-wide association study of asthma and UK Biobank (over 460 000 individuals combined). Results: Observational evidence indicated weak evidence of a protective effect of increased circulating testosterone on asthma in males in adolescence, but no strong pattern of association with SHBG. Genetic evidence using two-sample MR indicated a protective effect of increased SHBG, with an OR for asthma of 0.86 (95% CI 0.74 to 1.00) for the inverse-variance weighted approach and an OR of 0.83 (95% CI 0.72 to 0.96) for the weighted median estimator, per unit increase in natural log SHBG. A sex-stratified sensitivity analysis suggested the protective effect of SHBG was mostly evident in females. Conclusion: We report the first suggestive evidence of a protective effect of genetically elevated SHBG on asthma, which may provide a biological explanation behind the observed asthma sex discordance. Further work is required to disentangle the downstream effects of SHBG on asthma and the molecular pathways involved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)633-642
Number of pages10
Issue number7
Early online date1 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019

Bibliographical note

© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2019. Re-use permitted under CC BY. Published by BMJ.


  • sex hormones
  • cohort
  • asthma
  • testosterone
  • SHBG


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