New research may help explain why particular diseases are more prevalent in men or women as they get older
While there is a large spectrum when it comes to the brain and gender, a new study has found that male brains apparently deteriorate faster than in women in certain areas. This could explain why men are particularly vulnerable to neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease.
What did the study find?
A team of neuroscientists in Hungary compared brain structures of 53 men and 50 women matched by age. They focused on the subcortical structures, which deal with movement and emotional processing, and the thalamus which acts as an information hub – passing signals to different areas of the brain.
In both genders overall brain volume was reduced with advancing age, but the loss of grey matter was more pronounced in men. Furthermore, only in men did two structures, the caudate nucleus and putamen, loss volume with age.
“These findings might have important implications for the interpretation of the effects of unalterable factors (i.e. gender and age) in cross-sectional structural MRI studies”
Why might this be?
A complex interplay of genetics, epigenetics, environmental and hormonal influences means that sex differences are often hard to define when it comes to the brain. While there are many who buck certain trends, previous research has defined some structural variety but we still know relatively little about the aging process in the brain – let alone between genders.
This study defines some key changes that hint at why men have a particular vulnerability to Parkinson’s disease, as the subcortical structures are central in movement control. It does not explain why women are generally more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. At this point we don’t know why these differences occur, but it could well be due to different hormonal exposure as the sex hormones affect a huge range of physiological processes in the body.
“The volume distribution and changes of subcortical structures have been consistently related to several neuropsychiatric disorders (e.g. Parkinson’s disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, etc.). Understanding these changes might yield further insight in the course and prognosis of these disorders”
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