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Sex Differences in the Exocrine Pancreas and Associated Diseases


Differences in pancreatic anatomy, size, and function exist in men and women. The anatomical differences could contribute to the increase in complications associated with pancreatic surgery in women. Although diagnostic criteria for pancreatitis are the same in men and women, major sex differences in etiology are reported. Alcohol and tobacco predominate in men, whereas idiopathic and obstructive etiologies predominate in women. Circulating levels of estrogens, progesterone, and androgens contribute significantly to overall health outcomes; premenopausal women have lower prevalence of cardiovascular and pancreatic diseases suggesting protective effects of estrogens, whereas androgens promote growth of normal and cancerous cells. Sex chromosomes and gonadal and nongonadal hormones together determine an individual's sex, which is distinct from gender or gender identity. Human pancreatic disease etiology, outcomes, and sex-specific mechanisms are largely unknown. In rodents of both sexes, glucocorticoids and estrogens from the adrenal glands influence pancreatic secretion and acinar cell zymogen granule numbers. Lack of corticotropin-releasing factor receptor 2 function, a G protein-coupled receptor whose expression is regulated by both estrogens and glucocorticoids, causes sex-specific changes in pancreatic histopathology, zymogen granule numbers, and endoplasmic reticulum ultrastructure changes in acute pancreatitis model. Here, we review existing literature on sex differences in the normal exocrine pancreas and mechanisms that operate at homeostasis and diseased states in both sexes. Finally, we review pregnancy-related pancreatic diseases and discuss the effects of sex differences on proposed treatments in pancreatic disease.

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