Mechanisms of sex disparities in influenza pathogenesis

Sabra L. Klein, Andrea Hodgson, Dionne P. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Epidemiological evidence from influenza outbreaks and pandemics reveals that morbidity and mortality are often higher for women than men. Sex differences in the outcome of influenza are age-dependent, often being most pronounced among adults of reproductive ages (18-49 years of age) and sometimes reflecting the unique state of pregnancy in females, which is a risk factor for severe disease. Small animal models of influenza virus infection illustrate that inflammatory immune responses also differ between the sexes and impact the outcome of infection, with females generating higher proinflammatory cytokine and chemokine responses and experiencing greater morbidity and mortality than males. Males and females also respond differently to influenza vaccines, with women initiating higher humoral immune responses but experiencing more adverse reactions to seasonal influenza vaccines than men. Small animal models further show that elevated immunity following vaccination in females leads to greater cross-protection against novel influenza viruses in females compared with males. Sex steroid hormones, including estradiol and testosterone, as well as genetic differences between the sexes may play roles in modulating sex differences in immune responses to influenza virus infection and vaccination. Future studies must elucidate the pathways and cellular responses that differ between the sexes and determine how best to use this knowledge to inform public health policy-makers about prophylaxis and therapeutic treatments of influenza virus infections to ensure adequate protection in both males and females.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-73
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Leukocyte Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • CCL2
  • Estradiol
  • Sex chromosome
  • Sex difference
  • TNF-α
  • Testosterone
  • Vaccine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology


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