Sex-dependent effects of chronic intermittent hypoxia: implication for obstructive sleep apnea




0000-0001-5984-5516 (Cunningham, Rebecca)

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BioMed Central Ltd.


BACKGROUND: Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects 10-26% of adults in the United States with known sex differences in prevalence and severity. OSA is characterized by elevated inflammation, oxidative stress (OS), and cognitive dysfunction. However, there is a paucity of data regarding the role of sex in the OSA phenotype. Prior findings suggest women exhibit different OSA phenotypes than men, which could result in under-reported OSA prevalence in women. To examine the relationship between OSA and sex, we used chronic intermittent hypoxia (CIH) to model OSA in rats. We hypothesized that CIH would produce sex-dependent phenotypes of inflammation, OS, and cognitive dysfunction, and these sex differences would be dependent on mitochondrial oxidative stress (mtOS). METHODS: Adult male and female Sprague Dawley rats were exposed to CIH or normoxia for 14 days to examine the impact of sex on CIH-associated circulating inflammation (IL-1beta, IL-6, IL-10, TNF-alpha), circulating steroid hormones, circulating OS, and behavior (recollective and spatial memory; gross and fine motor function; anxiety-like behaviors; and compulsive behaviors). Rats were implanted with osmotic minipumps containing either a mitochondria-targeting antioxidant (MitoTEMPOL) or saline vehicle 1 week prior to CIH initiation to examine how inhibiting mtOS would affect the CIH phenotype. RESULTS: Sex-specific differences in CIH-induced inflammation, OS, motor function, and compulsive behavior were observed. In female rats, CIH increased inflammation (plasma IL-6 and IL-6/IL-10 ratio) and impaired fine motor function. Conversely, CIH elevated circulating OS and compulsivity in males. These sex-dependent effects of CIH were blocked by inhibiting mtOS. Interestingly, CIH impaired recollective memory in both sexes but these effects were not mediated by mtOS. No effects of CIH were observed on spatial memory, gross motor function, or anxiety-like behavior, regardless of sex. CONCLUSIONS: Our results indicate that the impact of CIH is dependent on sex, such as an inflammatory response and OS response in females and males, respectively, that are mediated by mtOS. Interestingly, there was no effect of sex or mtOS in CIH-induced impairment of recollective memory. These results indicate that mtOS is involved in the sex differences observed in CIH, but a different mechanism underlies CIH-induced memory impairments. Sleep apnea is a common sleeping condition in adults with a wide range of symptoms that include inflammation, oxidative stress, memory problems, anxiety, and compulsivity. Men are diagnosed with sleep apnea more often than women. Although there is limited information on how sleep apnea affects men and women differently, previous studies suggest that women may exhibit different sleep apnea symptoms than men. To examine the impact of male and female sex on common sleep apnea symptoms, we exposed adult male and female rats to a model of sleep apnea called chronic intermittent hypoxia (CIH). We found that many effects of CIH were different in males and females. CIH females had increased inflammation and motor problems, whereas CIH males had increased oxidative stress and compulsivity. To investigate the reason for these CIH sex differences, we blocked mitochondrial oxidative stress. Blocking mitochondrial oxidative stress decreased CIH associated sex differences. However, blocking mitochondrial oxidative stress had no impact on CIH-induced memory impairment that was observed in male and female rats. Our findings support previous reports that suggest that women exhibit different sleep apnea symptoms than men. Further, we extend these findings by showing that mitochondrial oxidative stress is involved in these sex differences. Clinically, patients diagnosed with sleep apnea are typically treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, which have high rates of non-compliance (15-40%). Therefore, understanding why sleep apnea is causing these symptoms will be important in developing therapeutics.



Mabry, S., Bradshaw, J. L., Gardner, J. J., Wilson, E. N., & Cunningham, R. L. (2024). Sex-dependent effects of chronic intermittent hypoxia: implication for obstructive sleep apnea. Biology of sex differences, 15(1), 38.


© The Author(s) 2024.


Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0 DEED)