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Sexual dimorphism of the developing human brain.

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Child Psychiatry Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.


1. Sexual dimorphism of human brain anatomy has not been well-studied between 4 and 18 years of age, a time of emerging sex differences in behavior and the sexually specific hormonal changes of adrenarche (the predominantly androgenic augmentation of adrenal cortex function occurring at approximately age 8) and puberty. 2. To assess sex differences in brain structures during this developmental period volumes of the cerebrum, lateral ventricles, caudate, putamen, globus pallidus temporal lobe, amygdala, and hippocampus, and midsagittal area measurements of the corpus callosum were quantified from brain magnetic resonance images of 121 healthy children and adolescent and examined in relation to age and sex. 3. Males had a 9% larger cerebral volume. When adjusted for cerebral volume by ANCOVA only the basal ganglia demonstrated sex differences in mean volume with the caudate being relatively larger in females and the globus pallidus being relatively larger in males. The lateral ventricles demonstrated a prominent sex difference in brain maturation with robust increases in size in males only. A piecewise-linear model revealed a significant change in the linear regression slope of lateral ventricular volume in males after age 11 that was not shared by females at that or other ages. 4. Amygdala and hippocampal volume increased for both sexes but with the amygdala increasing significantly more in males than females and hippocampal volume increasing more in females. 5. These sexually dimorphic patterns of brain development may be related to the observed sex differences in age of onset, prevalence, and symptomatology seen in nearly all neuropsychiatric disorders of childhood.

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