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Pflugers Arch. 2013 May;465(5):719-29. doi: 10.1007/s00424-013-1232-1. Epub 2013 Feb 13.

Sex differences in myocardial metabolism and cardiac function: an emerging concept.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, University of Toronto, 1 King's College Circle, Medical Sciences Bldg. Room 7256, Toronto, ON, M5S 1A8, Canada.


There is substantial evidence that there are dramatic sex-related differences in the incidence of cardiovascular disease, apparently related to the presence of steroid hormones. This is supported by the discovery of steroid hormone receptors in the heart and vasculature. More controversial is the area of sex-related differences in cardiac metabolism and function. A number of human and animal studies have demonstrated that estrogen and testosterone have cardiac metabolic effects. Additionally, research shows females have higher heart rates and various indices of function, including cardiac output and stroke volume, compared with males. However, some controversy exists, as other studies report that function in isolated muscle preparations is lower in females versus males. The reasons for these differences may reflect effects of sex hormones that are dependent on the conditions being studied. Cardiac function is reduced in postmenopausal females, suggesting that female sex hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone, influence cardiac function. Apart from its well-documented vasodilatory effects, estrogen has also been shown to have negative inotropic effects and to reduce Ca(2+) transients in cardiomyocytes. Similar results have been found for progesterone. Several studies show that testosterone administration appears to increase cardiac performance, while others show that it increases the stiffness of the ventricle due to increased collagen synthesis, thereby reducing diastolic performance. This review will discuss current evidence suggesting sex-related differences in cardiac metabolism and its energetics and function and will present the potential role of the principal sex steroid hormones.

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