Saturday, June 13, 2015

Musing: Why Size Matters - Differences in Brain Volume Account for Apparent Sex Differences in Callosal Anatomy

Dean Reinke
Deans’ Stroke Musing
Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Stump your doctor and ask what differences in brain size and sex  will have in the stroke protocol given you. After you pick them off the floor muttering, 'What stroke protocol? What is a protocol?', you can then proceed to finding a different doctor - Why Size Matters: Differences in Brain Volume Account for Apparent Sex Differences in Callosal Anatomy.


Numerous studies have demonstrated a sexual dimorphism of the human corpus callosum. However, the question remains if sex differences in brain size, which typically is larger in men than in women, or biological sex per se account for the apparent sex differences in callosal morphology. Comparing callosal dimensions between men and women matched for overall brain size may clarify the true contribution of biological sex, as any observed group difference should indicate pure sex effects. We thus examined callosal morphology in 24 male and 24 female brains carefully matched for overall size. In addition, we selected 24 extremely large male brains and 24 extremely small female brains to explore if observed sex effects might vary depending on the degree to which male and female groups differed in brain size. Using the individual T1-weighted brain images (n = 96), we delineated the corpus callosum at midline and applied a well-validated surface-based mesh-modeling approach to compare callosal thickness at 100 equidistant points between groups determined by brain size and sex. The corpus callosum was always thicker in men than in women. However, this callosal sex difference was strongly determined by the cerebral sex difference overall. That is, the larger the discrepancy in brain size between men and women, the more pronounced the sex difference in callosal thickness, with hardly any callosal differences remaining between brain-size matched men and women. Altogether, these findings suggest that individual differences in brain size account for apparent sex differences in the anatomy of the corpus callosum.

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