Systematic review of sex differences in the relationship between hormones and depression in HIV


BACKGROUND: Major depressive disorder is the most common neuropsychiatric comorbidity of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and women are more frequently affected in the general population and among those with HIV. The rate of depression in HIV is three times higher than the general population. Differences in biomarkers in neuroendocrine and inflammatory pathways are one possible explanation for the increased prevalence of depression in individuals with HIV, especially biological women. Therefore, we aimed to perform a systematic review identifying differences in neuroendocrine factors leading to depression in men versus women with HIV. METHODS: A comprehensive search of 8 databases was performed, followed by title and abstract screening and later full-text screening by two independent researchers. A risk of bias assessment was completed. RESULTS: Twenty-six full-text articles were included in the review. Significant correlations between depression and neuroendocrine marker levels were found for cortisol (both sexes), testosterone (only in men), oxytocin (only tested in women), and estradiol (only in women). No significant correlation between depression and hormone level was found for prolactin, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS), or sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Nearly all studies included only men or women and did not directly compare neuroendocrine markers between the two sexes. One study found that the correlation between cortisol levels and depression scores was stronger in women than men. CONCLUSION: Neuroendocrine systems are highly active in the brain and important in the development and persistence of mental illness. Given that HIV can, directly and indirectly, impact hormone signaling, it is likely contributing to the high rate of depression in individuals with HIV. However, few studies explore neuroactive hormones in depression and HIV, nor how this connection may differ between the sexes. More high-quality research is needed in this area to explore the link further and inform possible avenues of treatment.


Turk MC, Bakker CJ, Spencer SM, Lofgren SM




  • Population(s)
    • Women
    • General HIV+ population
  • Mental Health
    • Depression


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