Sex disparity in cancer: Roles of microRNAs and related functional players

Alessandra Carè, Maria Bellenghi, Paola Matarrese, Lucia Gabriele, Stefano Salvioli, Walter Malorni

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


A sexual dimorphism at the cellular level has been suggested to play a role in cancer onset and progression. In particular, very recent studies have unraveled striking differences between cells carrying XX or XY chromosomes in terms of response to stressful stimuli, indicating the presence of genetic and epigenetic differences determining sex-specific metabolic or phenotypic traits. Although this field of investigation is still in its infancy, available data suggest a key role of sexual chromosomes in determining cell life or death. In particular, cells carrying XX chromosomes exhibit a higher adaptive potential and survival behavior in response to microenvironmental variations with respect to XY cells. Cells from females also appear to be equipped with more efficient epigenetic machinery than the male counterpart. In particular, the X chromosome contains an unexpected high number of microRNAs (miRs), at present 118, in comparison with only two miRs localized on chromosome Y, and an average of 40-50 on the autosomes. The regulatory power of these small non-coding RNAs is well recognized, as 30-50% of all protein-coding genes are targeted by miRs and their role in cell fate has been well demonstrated. In addition, several further insights, including DNA methylation patterns that are different in males and females, claim for a significant gender disparity in cancer and in the immune system activity against tumors. In this brief paper, we analyze the state of the art of our knowledge on the implication of miRs encoded on sex chromosomes, and their related functional paths, in the regulation of cell homeostasis and depict possible perspectives for the epigenetic research in the field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477-485
Number of pages9
JournalCell Death and Differentiation
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2018


  • sex difference
  • MicroRNAs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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