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Brain. 2005 Dec;128(Pt 12):2872-81. Epub 2005 Sep 29.

Does gender play a role in functional asymmetry of ventromedial prefrontal cortex?

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Department of Neurology, Division of Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Iowa College of Medicine, IA, USA.


We found previously in a lesion study that the right-sided sector of the ventromedial prefrontal cortices (VMPCs) was critical for social/emotional functioning and decision-making, whereas the left side appeared to be less important. It so happened that all but one of the subjects in that study were men, and the one woman did not fit the pattern very well. This prompted a follow-up investigation, in which we explored the following question: Does gender play a role in the development of defects in social conduct, emotional functioning and decision-making, following unilateral VMPC damage? We culled from our Patient Registry same-sex pairs of men or women patients who had comparable unilateral VMPC damage in either the left or right hemisphere. Two male pairs and one female pair were formed, and we included two additional women with unilateral right VMPC damage (8 patients in all). The domains of measurement covered social conduct, emotional processing and personality, and decision-making. We found a systematic effect of gender on the pattern of left-right asymmetry in VMPC. In men, there were severe defects following unilateral right VMPC damage, but not following left-sided damage. In women, there were defects following unilateral left VMPC damage; following right-sided damage, however, defects were mild or absent. The findings suggest that men and women may use different strategies to solve similar problems--e.g. men may use a more holistic, gestalt-type strategy, and women may use a more analytic, verbally-mediated strategy. Such differences could reflect asymmetric, gender-related differences in the neurobiology of left and right VMPC sectors.

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