PublicationsGender difference in age-related number of corticotropin-releasing hormone-expressing neurons in the human hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus and the role of sex hormones
Previous studies have shown that the total number of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH)-stained neurons in the human hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) increases with age. To determine whether this age-related change depends on gender and whether circulating sex hormones play a role, we analyzed the total number of CRH-immunoreactive neurons by means of immunocytochemistry and image analysis in the postmortem hypothalamic PVN of 22 control subjects (11 males and 11 females) between the ages of 22 and 89 years, and of 10 subjects with abnormal sex hormone status. Our data show that men have a significantly larger number of CRH neurons than women (p = 0.004) and that the total number of CRH neurons increases significantly with age, but only in male controls (p = 0.032), not in female controls (p = 0.733). Female controls do not show a significant change in the total number of CRH neurons either before or after the age (50 years) of menopause (p = 0.792). Male subjects with low testosterone levels due to castration showed significantly fewer CRH neurons than well-matched intact males (p = 0.008), while castrated male-to-female (M-F) transsexuals with estrogen replacement showed normal numbers of CRH neurons. One male case, who had high estrogen levels due to an estrogen-producing tumor, showed a large number of CRH neurons. Thus, although circulating androgens and estrogens both seem to play a stimulatory role with respect to CRH neurons, the age-dependent increase in the number of CRH neurons in the PVN of men, which has been interpreted to reflect activation of the CRH neurons with age, seems to result from factors other than age-related changes of circulating sex hormone levels.