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Cortical gyrification in women and men and the (missing) link to prenatal androgens.

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Gaser, Christian 
Spencer, Debra 
Thankamony, Ajay 
Hughes, Ieuan 


Previous studies have reported sex differences in cortical gyrification. Since most cortical folding is principally defined in utero, sex chromosomes as well as gonadal hormones are likely to influence sex-specific aspects of local gyrification. Classic congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) causes high levels of androgens during gestation in females, whereas levels in males are largely within the typical male range. Therefore, CAH provides an opportunity to study the possible effects of prenatal androgens on cortical gyrification. Here, we examined the vertex-wise absolute mean curvature-a common estimate for cortical gyrification-in individuals with CAH (33 women and 20 men) and pair-wise matched controls (33 women and 20 men). There was no significant main effect of CAH and no significant CAH-by-sex interaction. However, there was a significant main effect of sex in five cortical regions, where gyrification was increased in women compared to men. These regions were located on the lateral surface of the brain, specifically left middle frontal (rostral and caudal), right inferior frontal, left inferior parietal, and right occipital. There was no cortical region where gyrification was increased in men compared to women. Our findings do not only confirm prior reports of increased cortical gyrification in female brains but also suggest that cortical gyrification is not significantly affected by prenatal androgen exposure. Instead, cortical gyrification might be determined by sex chromosomes either directly or indirectly-the latter potentially by affecting the underlying architecture of the cortex or the size of the intracranial cavity, which is smaller in women.


Publication status: Published


CAH, androgens, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, cortical complexity, curvature, folding, gyrification, magnetic resonance imaging, sex

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Eur J Neurosci

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National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01HD081720)