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Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2018 Dec 1;315(6):H1569-H1588. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00396.2018. Epub 2018 Sep 14.

Sex differences in endothelial function important to vascular health and overall cardiovascular disease risk across the lifespan.

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Department of Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University , University Park, Pennsylvania.
Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology, University of Delaware , Newark, Delaware.
The John B. Pierce Laboratory, New Haven, Connecticut.
Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences and Yale School of Public Health, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.


Diseases of the cardiovascular system are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in men and women in developed countries, and cardiovascular disease (CVD) is becoming more prevalent in developing countries. The prevalence of atherosclerotic CVD in men is greater than in women until menopause, when the prevalence of CVD increases in women until it exceeds that of men. Endothelial function is a barometer of vascular health and a predictor of atherosclerosis that may provide insights into sex differences in CVD as well as how and why the CVD risk drastically changes with menopause. Studies of sex differences in endothelial function are conflicting, with some studies showing earlier decrements in endothelial function in men compared with women, whereas others show similar age-related declines between the sexes. Because the increase in CVD risk coincides with menopause, it is generally thought that female hormones, estrogens in particular, are cardioprotective. Moreover, it is often proposed that androgens are detrimental. In truth, the relationships are more complex. This review first addresses female and male sex hormones and their receptors and how these interact with the cardiovascular system, particularly the endothelium, in healthy young women and men. Second, we address sex differences in sex steroid receptor-independent mechanisms controlling endothelial function, focusing on vascular endothelin and the renin-angiotensin systems, in healthy young women and men. Finally, we discuss sex differences in age-associated endothelial dysfunction, focusing on the role of attenuated circulating sex hormones in these effects.


androgens; atherosclerosis; endothelin; endothelium; estradiol; estrogens; menopause; renin-angiotensin system

[Available on 2019-12-01]
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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