Risk for heart disease increases with advanced age and differs between sexes, with females generally protected from heart disease until menopause. Despite these epidemiological observations, the molecular mechanisms that underlie sex-specific differences in cardiac function have not been fully described. We used high throughput transcriptomics in juvenile (5 weeks), adult (4-6 months), and aged (18 months) male and female mice to understand how cardiac gene expression changes across the life course and by sex. While male gene expression profiles differed between juvenile-adult and juvenile-aged (254 and 518 genes, respectively), we found no significant differences in adult-aged gene expression. Females had distinct gene expression changes across the life course with 1835 genes in juvenile-adult and 1328 in adult-aged. Analysis of differentially expressed genes (DEGs) suggests that juvenile to adulthood genes were clustered in cell cycle and development-related pathways in contrast to adulthood-aged which were characterized by immune-and inflammation-related pathways. Analysis of sex differences within each age suggests that juvenile and aged cardiac transcriptomes are different between males and females, with significantly fewer DEGs identified in adult males and females. Interestingly, the male-female differences in early age were distinct from those in advanced age. These findings are in contrast to expected sex differences historically attributed to estrogen and could not be explained by estrogen-direct mechanisms alone as evidenced by juvenile sexual immaturity and reproductive incompetence in the aged mice. Together, distinct trajectories in cardiac transcriptomic profiles highlight fundamental sex differences across the life course and demonstrate the need for the consideration of age and sex as biological variables in heart disease.
© 2021 The Authors. Physiological Reports published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of The Physiological Society and the American Physiological Society.