• 1. It is well documented that the incidence and severity of several vascular diseases, such as hypertension, atherosclerosis and stroke, are lower in premenopausal women than men of similar age and post-menopausal women. The mechanisms responsible for gender differences in the incidence and severity of vascular disease are not well understood. However, emerging evidence suggests that sex hormone-dependent differences in vascular oxidative stress may play an important role. The aim of the present brief review is to provide an insight into the effect of gender and sex hormones on vascular oxidative stress. 2. When production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) is enhanced and/or their metabolism by anti-oxidant enzymes is impaired, a condition known as 'oxidative stress' can develop. Oxidative stress is believed to play an important role in both the initiation and progression of a variety of vascular diseases, including hypertension and atherosclerosis. NADPH oxidases are believed to be the major source of vascular ROS. Moreover, excessive production of ROS by NADPH oxidases has been linked to the development of vascular oxidative stress. 3. Increasing evidence suggests that levels of vascular ROS may be lower in women than men during health and disease. Indeed, the activity and expression of vascular NADPH oxidase is lower in female versus male animals under healthy, hypertensive and atherosclerotic conditions. 4. Gonadal sex hormones may play an important role in the regulation of vascular oxidative stress. For example, oestrogens, which are present in highest levels in premenopausal women, have been reported to lower vascular oxidative stress by modulating the expression and function of NADPH oxidases, as well as anti-oxidant enzymes. 5. Further studies are needed to clarify whether lower vascular oxidative stress in women in fact protects against the initiation and development of vascular disease and to further define the roles of gonadal sex hormones in such an effect. Knowledge gained from these studies may potentially lead to advances in the clinical diagnosis and treatment of vascular disease in both genders.

publication date

  • October 2007