Male and female response to stress is down to genetics

by Carys Kirkpatrick

Stressed woman, woman head in hands, tired woman, REX

Scientists in Australia have found that a more aggressive reaction to stress is down to a gene only found in men.

Published in BioEssays, the research focuses on the difference in behavior between men and women when subjected to stress. The results suggest that the SRY gene on the Y-chromosome, which only men have, has an effect on two major organ systems that respond to stress – the heart and the brain.

Previously, the function of the SRY gene was thought to be to determine the gender of male foetuses in the womb. However, the changes in male vital organs that occur in response to stress is now also attributed to this gene.

 Dr Joohyung Lee, of the Prince Henry’s Institute in Melbourne says, ‘The SRY gene exerts ‘maleness’ by acting directly on the brain and peripheral tissues to regulate movement and blood pressure in males.’ Under stress, SRY causes blood pressure to increase.

By contrast the female body is absent of SRY, and is influenced by oestrogen and internal opiates; the hormones we use to control pain. This promotes a less aggressive reaction when in a stressful situation, rather than the typically male 'fight or flight' mode of behavior.

Dr Lee said the discovery could be used to understand gender-specific diseases; ‘This research helps uncover the genetic basis to explain what predisposes men and women to certain behavioral phenotypes and neuropsychiatric disorders.’

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