The Brain as the Engine of Sex Differences in the Organization of Movement in Rats
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Sex differences in the kinematic organization of non-reproductive behavior are often relegated to byproducts of sex differences in body morphology. We review evidence showing not only that male and female rats organize their posture and stepping differently during a variety of actions, but that these differences arise from sex differences in the organization of movement in the central nervous system (CNS). Indeed, the expression and choice of sex-typical patterns of movement can be altered by CNS injury. The pattern of hormonal regulation of these sex differences is also not organized as commonly held theory would predict. As expected, males castrated shortly after birth are female-typical in their motor organization. Females ovariectomized at birth, however, are male-typical in their patterns of movement. Thus, female-typical patterns of movement organization are not the default form, but rather are dependent on the effects of gonadal steroids to feminize the developing CNS. The implications of these findings are discussed with regards to our understanding of the evolution of sex differences in CNS anatomy and behavior both for animals and humans.