Sexual dimorphism in immune function: the role of prenatal exposure to androgens and estrogens

European Journal of Pharmacology
J T Martin


Perinatal exposure to androgens permanently transforms certain tissues, e.g., the brain, the genitalia, etc. This process involves both masculinization and defeminization. Immune function also is transformed by early steroid exposure; however, it is not yet known whether the response capabilities of the immunocytes themselves are directly modified or whether they are responding to signals from other masculinized tissues, e.g., the brain. Most evidence points to a direct effect since androgen and estrogen receptors are present in developing immunocytes. Both androgens and estrogens have a role in regulating adult immunity including Th1/Th2 balance. Adult susceptibility to autoimmune and other diseases is also related to steroid exposure. How immune cells respond to gonadal steroids in adulthood may depend on the pattern of androgenic and estrogenic stimulation during early development.


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