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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 04/28/99
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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Gender-Specific Differences Found in Human Brain

Cincinnati—According to research by Gabrielle de Courten-Myers, MD, study author and associate professor of neuropathology at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine, distinct gender-specific differences have been found during microscopic examination of the human brain. "Men's and women's brains are distinctly different," says de Courten-Myers. "While men have more neurons in the cerebral cortex, the brain's outer layer, women have more neuropil, which contains the structures needed for cell-to-cell communication."

The UC study showing these gender-specific differences was presented during the American Academy of Neurology's 51st Annual Meeting April 17-24 in Toronto. "The cerebral cortex is responsible for voluntary movements, perception of sensory input, and highly complex functions such as memory, learning, reasoning, and language," says de Courten-Myers. "Males possess more numerous, tightly packed nerve cells (neurons) than females. Neurons send and receive electrical signals that influence many functions of the body and create thoughts and feelings. Females tend to have more neuropil, the fibrillar tissue between nerve cell bodies which contains the synapses, dendrites, and axons that enable neurons to communicate with many other nerve cells."

This research may explain previous findings that women are more prone to dementia than men. Although a man and woman may lose the same number of neurons due to a disease, the woman's functional loss may be greater because the cells lost are more densely connected with other neurons. "Conversely, in males, the reserve of neurons may be greater, which could prevent some of the functional losses," says de Courten-Myers. Although these gender-specific variations cause tangible differences in how the brain functions, one type is not better or worse than the other. "It seems reasonable to assume that specific functions may benefit from the presence of more cells while others may be enhanced by a larger number of connections between them. A better understanding of these issues may potentially affect a wide spectrum of human activities such as health care, psychology, and teaching."

The researchers measured the cortex thickness and counted nerve cells from various sites within the healthy brains of 17 deceased subjects (ten males and seven females). The recognition of gender-specific ways of thinking and feeling is rendered more credible given these established differences and could prove beneficial in enhancing interpersonal relationships. "However, the interpretation of the data also has the potential for abuse and harm if either gender would seek to construct evidence for superiority of the male or female brain from these findings," she adds.

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