Sex Differences in Severity and Mortality Among Patients With COVID-19: Evidence from Pooled Literature Analysis and Insights from Integrated Bioinformatic Analysis

Objective: To conduct a meta-analysis of current studies that examined sex differences in severity and mortality in patients with COVID-19, and identify potential mechanisms underpinning these differences. Methods: We performed a systematic review to collate data from observational studies examining associations of sex differences with clinical outcomes of COVID-19. PubMed, Web of Science and four preprint servers were searched for relevant studies. Data were extracted and analyzed using meta-analysis where possible, with summary data presented otherwise. Publicly available bulk RNA sequencing (RNA-seq), single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq), and chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing (ChIP-seq) data were analyzed to explore the potential mechanisms underlying the observed association. Results: 39 studies met inclusion criteria, representing 77932 patients, of which 41510 (53.3%) were males. Men were at a markedly increased risk of developing severe cases compared with women. Furthermore, the pooled odds ratio (OR) of mortality for male group compared with the female group indicated significant higher mortality rate for male. Data from scRNA-seq suggest that men have a higher amount of ACE2-expressing pulmonary alveolar type II cells than women. Sex-based immunological differences exist. The expression of androgen receptor (AR) is positively correlated with ACE2, and there is evidence that AR may directly regulate the expression of ACE2. Conclusions: This meta-analysis detected an increased severity and mortality rate in the male populations with COVID-19, which might be attributable to the sex-based differences in cellular compositions and immunological microenvironments of the lung. The host cell receptor ACE2 is likely regulated by AR signaling pathway, which is identified as a potential target for prevention and treatment of SARS-Cov-2 infections in men.

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