Sex differences in the epilepsies and associated comorbidities: Implications for use and development of pharmacotherapies

Catherine A. Christian, Doodipala Samba Reddy, Jamie Maguire, Patrick A. Forcelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The epilepsies are common neurologic disorders characterized by spontaneous recurrent seizures. Boys, girls, men, and women of all ages are affected by epilepsy and, in many cases, by associated comorbidities as well. The primary courses of treatment are pharmacological, dietary, and/or surgical, depending on several factors, including the areas of the brain affected and the severity of the epilepsy. There is a growing appreciation that sex differences in underlying brain function and in the neurobiology of epilepsy are important factors that should be accounted for in the design and development of new therapies. In this review, we discuss the current knowledge on sex differences in epilepsy and associated comorbidities, with emphasis on those aspects most informative for the development of new pharmacotherapies. Particular focus is placed on sex differences in the prevalence and presentation of various focal and generalized epilepsies; psychiatric, cognitive, and physiologic comorbidities; catamenial epilepsy in women; sex differences in brain development; the neural actions of sex and stress hormones and their metabolites; and cellular mechanisms, including brainderived neurotrophic factor signaling and neuronal-glial interactions. Further attention placed on potential sex differences in epilepsies, comorbidities, and drug effects will enhance therapeutic options and efficacy for all patients with epilepsy. Significance Statement--Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder that often presents together with various comorbidities. The features of epilepsy and seizure activity as well as comorbid afflictions can vary between men and women. In this review, we discuss sex differences in types of epilepsies, associated comorbidities, pathophysiological mechanisms, and antiepileptic drug efficacy in both clinical patient populations and preclinical animal models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)767-800
Number of pages34
JournalPharmacological Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


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