Sex Differences and the Impact of Steroid Hormones on the Developing Human Brain

Research Area: Research Year: 2009
Type of Publication: Article
Authors: Neufang, S; Specht, Karsten; Hausmann, M; Güntürkün, O; Herpertz-Dahlmann, B; Fink, G R; Konrad, K
Little is known about the hormonal effects of puberty on the anatomy of the developing human brain. In a voxel-based morphometry study, sex-related differences in gray matter (GM) volume were examined in 46 subjects aged 8-15 years. Males had larger GM volumes in the left amygdala, whereas females had larger right striatal and bilateral hippocampal GM volumes than males. Sexually dimorphic areas were related to Tanner stages (TS) of pubertal development and to circulating level of steroid hormones in a subsample of 30 subjects. Regardless of sex, amygdala and hippocampal volumes varied as a function of TS and were associated with circulating testosterone (TEST) levels. By contrast, striatal GM volumes were unrelated to pubertal development and circulating steroid hormones. Whole-brain regression analyses revealed positive associations between circulating estrogen levels and parahippocampal GM volumes as well as between TEST levels and diencephalic brain structures. In addition, a negative association was found between circulating TEST and left parietal GM volumes. These data suggest that GM development in certain brain regions is associated with sexual maturation and that pubertal hormones might have organizational effects on the developing human brain.
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