Sex-associated differences in mitochondrial function in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and brain

Background: Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, and it affects more women than men. Mitochondrial dysfunction (MD) plays a key role in AD, and it is detectable at an early stage of the degenerat
Background: Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, and it affects more women than men. Mitochondrial dysfunction (MD) plays a key role in AD, and it is detectable at an early stage of the degenerative process in peripheral tissues, such as peripheral mononuclear blood cells (PBMCs). However, whether these changes are also reflected in cerebral energy metabolism and whether sex-specific differences in mitochondrial function occur are not clear. Therefore, we estimated the correlation between mitochondrial function in PBMCs and brain energy metabolites and examined sex-specific differences in healthy participants to elucidate these issues.
Methods: The current pilot study included 9 male and 15 female healthy adults (mean age 30.8 ± 7.1 years). Respiration and activity of mitochondrial respiratory complexes were measured using a Clarke-electrode (Oxygraph-2k system), and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) levels were determined using a bioluminescence-based assay in isolated PBMCs. Citrate synthase activity as a mitochondrial marker was measured using a photometric assay. Concentrations of brain energy metabolites were quantified in the same individuals using 1H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS).
Results: We detected sex-associated differences in mitochondrial function. Mitochondrial complexes I, I+II, and IV and uncoupled respiration and electron transport system (ETS) capacity in PBMCs isolated from blood samples of females were significantly (p < 0.05; p < 0.01) higher compared to males. ATP levels in the PBMCs of female participants were approximately 10% higher compared to males. Citrate synthase (CS) activity, a marker of mitochondrial content, was significantly (p < 0.05) higher in females compared to males. Sex-associated differences were also found for brain metabolites. The N-acetylaspartate (NAA) concentration was significantly higher in female participants compared to males in targeted regions. This difference was observed in white matter (WM) and an area with a high percentage (> 50%) of gray matter (GM) (p < 0.05; p < 0.01). The effect sizes indicated a strong influence of sex on these parameters. Sex-associated differences were found in PBMCs and brain, but the determined parameters were not significantly correlated.
Conclusions: Our study revealed sex-associated differences in mitochondrial function in healthy participants. The underlying mechanisms must be elucidated in more detail, but our study suggests that mitochondrial function in PBMCs is a feasible surrogate marker to detect differences in mitochondrial function and energy metabolism in humans and it underscores the necessity of sex-specific approaches in therapies that target mitochondrial dysfunction.
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Author:Carmina Silaidos, Ulrich Pilatus, Rekha Grewal, Silke Matura, Bianca Lienerth, Johannes Pantel, Gunter P. Eckert
Parent Title (English):Biology of sex differences
Document Type:Article
Date of Publication (online):2018/07/25
Date of first Publication:2018/07/25
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2020/05/03
Tag: N-Acetylaspartate; Blood cells; MR spectroscopy; Mitochondria; Mitochondrial respiration; Sex differences
First Page:1
Last Page:10
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
HeBIS PPN:465940129
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medizin und Gesundheit
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - Namensnennung 4.0

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