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The Sexual Differentiation of the Human Brain: Role of Sex Hormones Versus Sex Chromosomes

  • Julie Bakker
Chapter
Part of the Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences book series

Abstract

Men and women differ, not only in their anatomy but also in their behavior. Research using animal models has convincingly shown that sex differences in the brain and behavior are induced by sex hormones during a specific, hormone-sensitive period during early development. Thus, male-typical psychosexual characteristics seem to develop under the influence of testosterone, mostly acting during early development. By contrast, female-typical psychosexual characteristics may actually be organized under the influence of estradiol during a specific prepubertal period. The sexual differentiation of the human brain also seems to proceed predominantly under the influence of sex hormones. Recent studies using magnetic resonance imaging have shown that several sexually differentiated aspects of brain structure and function are female-typical in women with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS), who have a 46 XY karyotype but a female phenotype due to complete androgen resistance, suggesting that these sex differences most likely reflect androgen action, although feminizing effects of estrogens or female-typical socialization cannot be ruled out. By contrast, some male-typical neural characteristics were also observed in women with CAIS suggesting direct effects of sex chromosome genes in the sexual differentiation of the human brain. In conclusion, the sexual differentiation of the human brain is most likely a multifactorial process including both sex hormone and sex chromosome effects, acting in parallel or in combination.

Keywords

Androgens Brain function Brain structure Complete androgen insensitivity syndrome Estrogens Magnetic resonance imaging Sex differences Sexual development 

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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology, GIGA NeurosciencesLiège UniversityLiègeBelgium

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