Date: 16 Mar 2013

Gender differences in neurodevelopment and epigenetics

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Abstract

The concept that the brain differs in make-up between males and females is not new. For example, it is well established that anatomists in the nineteenth century found sex differences in human brain weight. The importance of sex differences in the organization of the brain cannot be overstated as they may directly affect cognitive functions, such as verbal skills and visuospatial tasks in a sex-dependent fashion. Moreover, the incidence of neurological and psychiatric diseases is also highly dependent on sex. These clinical observations reiterate the importance that gender must be taken into account as a relevant possible contributing factor in order to understand thepathogenesis of neurological and psychiatric disorders. Gender-dependent differentiation of the brain has been detected at every level of organization—morphological, neurochemical, and functional—and has been shown to be primarily controlled by sex differences in gonadal steroid hormone levels during perinatal development. In this review, we discuss howthe gonadal steroid hormone testosterone and its metabolites affect downstream signaling cascades, including gonadal steroid receptor activation, and epigenetic events in order to differentiate the brain in a gender-dependent fashion.