IMPORTANCE Male sex is a risk factor for developing severe COVID-19 illness. It is not known whether sex hormones contribute to this predisposition. OBJECTIVE To investigate the association of concentrations of serum testosterone, estradiol, and insulinlike growth factor 1 (IGF-1, concentrations of which are regulated by sex hormone signaling) with COVID-19 severity. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS This prospective cohort study was conducted using serum samples collected from consecutive patients who presented from March through May 2020 to the Barnes Jewish Hospital in St Louis, Missouri, with COVID-19 (diagnosed using nasopharyngeal swabs). EXPOSURES Testosterone, estradiol, and IGF-1 concentrations were measured at the time of presentation (ie, day 0) and at days 3, 7, 14, and 28 after admission (if the patient remained hospitalized). MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES Baseline hormone concentrations were compared among patients who had severe COVID-19 vs those with milder COVID-19 illness. RNA sequencing was performed on circulating mononuclear cells to understand the mechanistic association of altered circulating hormone concentrations with cellular signaling pathways. RESULTS Among 152 patients (90 [59.2%] men; 62 [40.8%] women; mean [SD] age, 63 [16] years), 143 patients (94.1%)were hospitalized. Among 66 men with severe COVID-19, median [interquartile range] testosterone concentrations were lower at day 0 (53 [18 to 114] ng/dL vs 151 [95 to 217] ng/dL; P = .01) and day 3 (19 [6 to 68] ng/dL vs 111 [49 to 274] ng/dL; P = .006) compared with 24 men with milder disease. Testosterone concentrations were inversely associated with concentrations of interleukin 6 (β =-0.43; 95%CI,-0.52 to-0.17; P < .001), C-reactive protein (β =-0.38; 95%CI,-0.78 to-0.16; P = .004), interleukin 1 receptor antagonist (β =-0.29; 95%CI,-0.64 to-0.06; P = .02), hepatocyte growth factor (β =-0.46; 95%CI,-0.69 to-0.25; P < .001), and interferon γ inducible protein 10 (β =-0.32; 95%CI,-0.62 to-0.10; P = .007). Estradiol and IGF-1 concentrationswere not associated with COVID-19 severity in men. Testosterone, estradiol, and IGF-1 concentrations were similar in women with and without severe COVID-19. Gene set enrichment analysis revealed upregulated hormone signaling pathways in CD14+CD16-(ie, classical) monocytes and CD14-CD16+ (ie, nonclassical) monocytes in male patients with COVID-19 who needed intensive care unit treatment vs those who did not. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE In this single-center cohort study of patients with COVID-19, lower testosterone concentrations during hospitalization were associated with increased disease severity and inflammation in men. Hormone signaling pathways in monocytes did not parallel serum hormone concentrations, and further investigation is required to understand their pathophysiologic association with COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E2111398
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 25 2021


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